How to tell if meat is spoiled?

In this brief article, we are going to answer the question “How to tell if meat is spoiled”, and discuss the different methods of identifying whether the meat is spoiled and the potential side effects of eating spoiled meat.

How to tell if meat is spoiled?

There are different ways to find out if your meat is spoiled or not. Here, we summarize five of the most relevant signs of meat spoilage:

Important: remember that spoiled meat is harmful to health. Consuming it can lead to foodborne illness and other health problems (1-4). You should not eat spoiled meat!

  1. Texture: A touch test is helpful to identify spoiled meat. Fresh meat has a firm consistency, and it breaks when we squeeze it. 

When the meat has a slimy, spongy, mushy, or sticky texture, either cooked or raw, it means that the meat may have harmful microorganisms (1,3), so you should throw it out immediately. 

It is extremely important that you wash your hands after touching the meat to avoid the spread of the bacteria from one place to another.

  1. Smell: Smelling your meat is the easiest method to find out if your meat is still fresh or not. If your meat smells rancid, sour, rotten, or like ammonia, it is likely no longer safe to eat. You should throw it out. 

The unpleasant smell of meat changes due to the growth of different bacteria such as Pseudomonas spp, Enterobacter spp, Lactobacillus spp, Carnobacterium spp, and Leuconostoc spp (1,3). 

Be aware that some pathogens do not change the smell of meat, so you should always check other signs of spoilage.

  1. Appearance: meat changes its color due to changes in temperature, growth of harmful bacteria, and exposure to oxygen (5). The typical color of fresh meat is red due to the presence of oxymyoglobin, a pigment formed when a protein named myoglobin reacts with oxygen. 

If you store your meat for too long, its color will change to grayish brown and may appear discolored in patches. This may indicate that your meat is old, and this is the beginning of spoilage. 

If you notice a fuzzy blue-gray color or maybe green spots in your meat, most probably there are molds growing on it. 

You must immediately throw it out! The toxins produced by molds could be very dangerous for your health (6-7).

  1. Expiration date: Always check the expiration date or “best by” date on the packaging. If the date has passed, the meat may no longer be safe to eat, even if it appears and smells fine.
  1. Taste: Spoiled meat may have a sour or metallic taste. However, it is not recommended to taste your meat if you suspect that it is spoiled. Tasting spoiled meat could expose you to different foodborne illnesses (4). Be careful!

If you identify any of these signs on your meat, you must discard it immediately.

Can you get sick from eating spoiled meat?

Eating spoiled meat can be very dangerous to your health (1-4). Here, you find a summary of the main hazards and symptoms that you may experience after eating spoiled meat:

  • Gastrointestinal issues: Eating spoiled meat can cause you diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. This is because spoiled meat can contain harmful bacteria and viruses that can irritate the stomach lining and cause inflammation (8-9).
  • Food poisoning: Some of the pathogenic harmful microorganisms that can cause food poisoning when consuming spoiled meat include Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter (1,3). You may experience different symptoms including fever, chills, headache, and dehydration (8-9).
  • Botulism: Another risk of consuming spoiled meat is to get botulism, which is caused by neurotoxins produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum (10). 

Symptoms of botulism can include blurred vision, difficulty speaking or swallowing, muscle weakness, paralysis and even death in severe cases (10). You should be careful: botulism is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

  • Allergic reactions: In some cases, eating spoiled meat can trigger an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to certain types of proteins found in meat (11). Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing.

You should know that not all the spoilage microorganisms growing on your meat are harmful to humans. However, it is always best to err on the side of caution and avoid consuming your meat if you suspect it has gone bad.

What should you do if you suspect you have eaten spoiled meat?

If you are in the middle of a meal and suspect that your meat may be spoiled, stop eating immediately. It may have been contaminated with harmful bacteria that can lead to severe health problems (1-4).

If you start feeling any of the symptoms above described, you should track their severity and duration. If your symptoms worsen or do not improve after a few days, seek medical attention immediately. 

This is especially important if you have any underlying health conditions or if you are pregnant and you are experiencing severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, or severe abdominal pain.

During your recovery you should drink plenty of fluids, such as water or sports drinks, to help replace any fluids lost due to vomiting or diarrhea (12).

Remember that if you want to prevent future incidents, it is important that you practice good food safety habits (13), such as properly storing and cooking meat, and checking expiration dates before consuming meat.

Remember, prevention is always better than cure!

How to properly handle meat to avoid spoilage?

If you want to prevent spoilage of your meat and avoid foodborne illness, you should properly handle your meat by considering:

  • The storage temperature: Keep raw meat refrigerated at a temperature below 40°F (4°C) to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria (14). Cooked meat should also be stored at a temperature of 40°F (4°C) or below.
  • The storage time: The shelf life of meat can vary depending on various factors, such as the cut of meat, how it was packaged, and the temperature at which it was stored (14). 

Generally, raw meat can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, while cooked meat can be stored for 3-4 days. If you need to store meat for a longer period, it is best to freeze it.

  • Freezing: meat can be safely frozen for several months. To freeze meat, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and place it in a freezer-safe container or freezer bag. Be sure to label the container with the date and type of meat.
  • Thawing: When thawing frozen meat, it is best to do so in the refrigerator, in cold water, or using a microwave. Avoid thawing meat at room temperature, as this can promote the growth of harmful bacteria (15).
  • Proper cooking: Cook meat thoroughly to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present. Use a food thermometer to ensure that the meat reaches a safe internal temperature of at least 63°C for steaks, roasts, and chops, and 74°C for ground meat (16).
  • Cross-contamination prevention: To prevent cross-contamination, keep raw meat separate from other foods and use separate cutting boards and utensils when handling raw meat.

By following these guidelines, you will guarantee that your meat stays fresh and safe to eat.

Remember to always practice good food safety habits to prevent foodborne illness.


In this brief article, we answered the question “How to tell if meat is spoiled”, and discussed the different methods of identifying whether the meat is spoiled and the potential side effects of eating spoiled meat.


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