I bought some ground beef around 2 weeks ago and used half of it, putting the rest in a freezer bag in my fridge (not the freezer). It has since turned brown (not red, as when I bought it).

Is it safe to use to make hamburgers?

  • 3
    just smell it!! that should give you a good idea of whether it is off or not
    – nikki
    Jan 11, 2011 at 5:01

6 Answers 6


I'm not going to comment on whether or not it is safe, because that could be any number of issues other than the brown coloring of the meat. However, the brown in and of itself is not an issue. When meat is exposed to air it turns a brown color. This does not effect the falvor of the meat, but the color turns a lot of people off. Grocery stores will actually throw this meat away, not because it is bad but just because people won't buy it. Terribly wasteful.

From the USDA: Optimum surface color of fresh meat (i.e., cherry-red for beef; dark cherry-red for lamb; grayish-pink for pork; and pale pink for veal) is highly unstable and short-lived. When meat is fresh and protected from contact with air (such as in vacuum packages), it has the purple-red color that comes from myoglobin, one of the two key pigments responsible for the color of meat. When exposed to air, myoglobin forms the pigment, oxymyoglobin, which gives meat a pleasingly cherry-red color. The use of a plastic wrap that allows oxygen to pass through it helps ensure that the cut meats will retain this bright red color. However, exposure to store lighting as well as the continued contact of myoglobin and oxymyoglobin with oxygen leads to the formation of metmyoglobin, a pigment that turns meat brownish-red. This color change alone does not mean the product is spoiled

  • 8
    Not all grocery stores; some will actually dye it red again! Yuck!
    – Aaronut
    Jul 24, 2010 at 17:43
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    The butcher at our Publix told us that each store throws out about 100 lbs of meat a day. With 1016 stores, that's over 18k tons a year. They used to give it to homeless shelters, but one sued a grocery store for food poisoning so now they throw it away instead.
    – yossarian
    Jul 24, 2010 at 18:38
  • According to the Food Safety Inspection Service, the package having fully turned brown may indicate its started to spoil: fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/ground_beef_and_food_safety/…
    – derobert
    Dec 11, 2011 at 8:44

First, do not eat that. Regardless what color the beef is, two weeks is entirely too long to refrigerate ground beef. It is unsafe and should be thrown out. Raw ground beef only keeps in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.

Ignoring storage time, regarding color, brown meat is as safe to eat as red meat. As others have indicated it is simply oxidation occurring. Many grocery stores, at least in the USA, [used to?] blast and wrap their meats with carbon monoxide which imparts a bright pink color that lasts well beyond the shelf life of the meat. If you freeze hamburger or steak for a few months there's a good chance it will come out much browner than when you put it in. This is because some oxidation still occurs in the freezer, unless you hermetically sealed it somehow. Similarly, as long as you're within the 3-4 month freezer period for ground beef, you're OK.

  • 8
    Also: The 3–4 month freezer period is a quality concern, not a food safety concern. As with most everything stored at 0°F or below, it'll remain safe to eat forever, but for reasons of texture and flavor, you may not want to.
    – derobert
    Dec 11, 2011 at 8:43
  • 1
    You must not be frying it. I regularly keep raw beef in the fridge for 5 days to fry. I do not get sick from it.
    – Joshua
    Sep 21, 2018 at 15:59
  • Agree that 1-2 days is absurdly short for safety. I've gone way over that for many years and never had a problem. (I keep medicines past their expiration dates too)
    – Rob Lewis
    Sep 22, 2018 at 14:14

As long as it's before its expiration date, and looks/taste fine, it's okay. Beef browns because the iron in the blood oxidizes. It's essentially the same reaction as rust. It's harmless.


I think it's worth pointing out that, unlike steak, you're probably going to cook ground beef (or minced beef as we English call it) to death (literally) so any talk of food poisoning is slightly hysterical. The worst you're likely to do is ruin a potentially good meal with some horrible tasting meat.

Before anyone shouts at me for this irresponsible suggestion, I should point out that it is true that there are bacteria which produce heat stable toxins which can cause food poising, but they're quite rare, so... You'll be fine. Probably...


I just called the meat department about the same problem, except mine was only in the refrigerator for two days but had already turned brown. I was going to cook a large pot of soup but wanted to be safe. He said, do not use it. The expiration date is today, and it is the 3rd day since I bought it, but had turned brown before today. I would never risk food poisoning! Not worth it! I am taking it back for a refund. You can't even trust expiration dates either but have to look at the meat and don't use if it is brown.

  • 6
    By "meat department" I guess this means you called the store/supermarket? Most of them have policies whereby they would tell you to throw it out even if it were only 5 minutes old; otherwise they set themselves up for a lawsuit if anything happens due to other factors (improperly stored, improperly cooked, etc.) Because they told me it would be fine! Don't rely on stores for this information; that's why we have agencies like the USDA.
    – Aaronut
    Dec 11, 2011 at 16:26

I ran into a similar situation, a package of raw, presumably never frozen, ground beef sat in the refrigerator for at least three weeks. The instructions on the package read "freeze or use by October 9 (of this year). Not wanting to waste meat, or poison my roommate, I decided to cook it, knowing that heating the meat would produce an odor which would indicate whether it was edible. The nature of scent is that when chilled, odors indicating spoilage are harder to detect, and heat will activate, liven, or bloom any odor indicating hazard. Upon cooking the meat for a few minutes the meat had an inedible odor which made my stomach feel slightly ill. Had I let my roommate eat it, I would surely be accused of poisoning her.

  • 5
    This is absolutely false. You cannot always smell dangerous spoilage. (I've also removed the tangential rants.)
    – Cascabel
    Oct 31, 2013 at 3:11
  • Correct, you cannot always smell the dangerous spoilage when the meat is cold, which is why i decided to cook it, which produced a sickening smell, which correlated with the instructions on the package. The "tangential rants" were a response to other comments regarding the discard of raw meat by grocers, which makes no sense to me on several levels. I was also addressing the yet unspoken criticism that i am merely a vengeful [bad] vegetarian who would spitefully discard edible meat. I suspect that you have political reasons for editing my post.
    – guess.
    Oct 31, 2013 at 19:59
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    Again, you cannot always smell dangerous spoilage no matter whether the meat is hot or cold. If you'd cooked it and it didn't smell bad, it could still harm you. That's why I downvoted your post, and probably why others did as well. It's not political, it's about food safety.
    – Cascabel
    Oct 31, 2013 at 20:06
  • As for your disapproval of my edits, first of all, you can further edit own post, or simply roll back my edit. But keep in mind that this is an answer on a Q&A site, not a post on a forum, so this is not the place to respond to other posts. I do stand by my claim that it was all tangential, though. No one here is going to accuse you of spitefully discarding meat, even if they know you're a vegetarian (which they only do because you preemptively told them).
    – Cascabel
    Oct 31, 2013 at 20:08

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