It is a sad day when you find a beautiful steak in the fridge you had forgotten about and realize that the "Sell By" date had passed a few days back. But sometimes, the forgotten steak might still be safe to eat. Knowing how to tell if steak is bad is the only way to decide if the risk is worth it. This article will describe the things to look for that show that a steak has gone bad.
Buckle up, because this is going to get a little gross.
Top Reasons Raw Meat Goes Bad
From the moment that an animal is killed, the decomposition process begins. In the case of beef slaughtered for eating, the process is slowed significantly by processing the carcasses in cold rooms. Decomposition happens as a result of physical and chemical changes to the meat that are aided by various naturally occurring bacteria growth. When meat is exposed to temperatures above 40 degrees and below 140 degrees, bacterial growth can be rapid and results in gastrointestinal illnesses that can be fatal.
Whenever meat is improperly stored or handled, the risk that the steak is bad increases. Unfortunately, we have seen meat being sold in stores that is labeled as "fresh" even though it is clearly bad or spoiled. Most often, the meat was left to sit out at the wrong temperature for too long.
Raw steak that is left open to the air can become a breeding ground for bacteria and insects. Flies love to lay their eggs in decomposing flesh –which is exactly what they see your fresh steak as.
It takes 24 to 48 hours for maggots to hatch and begin eating the meat. Many species of fly eggs can tolerate freezing temperatures and will hatch once the meat warms back up. The United States Food and Drug Administration estimates that Americans eat between one and two pounds of flies, fly eggs, and maggots each year.
Preventing maggots is all about proper handling and storing raw meat. The less exposure the meat has to environments with flies, the less chance of contamination. Maggots can survive temperatures above 115 degrees but are killed beyond 120. So, unless you plan on grilling a steak in the summertime in Death Valley, you need to keep your meat covered.
The most common way that steak actually goes bad is freezer burn. This condition happens when meat is exposed to air at freezing temperatures. Air and cold interact to cause the muscle cells to burst. Oxidization turns the meat a grey color and leaves it dry.
What Does a Bad Steak Smell Like?
Spoiled steak has a distinctly potent odor. Some people describe it as similar to rotten eggs. Gasses released during decomposition are the cause of the bad smell. That is why a bad steak smells like sulfur or ammonia. Rotten meat often has a slimy film that is made of harmful bacteria growing on the surface. A slimy steak is a definite sign of spoilage.
How Do You Know When a Steak Is Bad?
There is no hard and fast rule to determine when a steak has gone bad. Start by doing the sniff test. Raw steak should smell beefy and maybe slightly like grass or hay. If it smells sour, there is a problem.
Touching the steak is a good indicator, too. A slimy texture or stickiness indicates that bacterial growth is occurring. Hard, brown steak indicates freezer burn.
Packages of meat with lots of red liquid in the bottom are another telltale sign that a steak has been improperly handled. This liquid is not blood, it is myoglobin which is released during decomposition.
Can a Dry-Aged Steak Spoil?
Dry-aging is a process that allows the surface of the meat to air dry, resulting in a tighter texture and better moisture retention when the steak is cooked. The dry aging process is done under controlled conditions to prevent harmful bacteria growth and to prevent spoilage.
One of the secrets of dry aging is that the meat is developing fungi that grow very slowly at low temperatures. The fungi are not harmful to us, but they can prevent bacteria and other types of fungi from growing. This is why dry-aged steaks have a slight mushroom-like flavor. The longer a steak is dry-aged, the more pronounced the smell becomes.
With that said, it is uncommon for dry-aging to result in rotten meat. Typically, dry aging is done in cold, dry air that is circulating well around the meat. This is why it is a bad idea to dry-age in your refrigerator. The lack of air circulation allows harmful bacteria to develop that can make you sick.
Like other cuts of meat, a dry-aged steak should not have a slimy appearance and it should smell like beef, not rotten meat.
Is it Safe to Eat Bad Steak?
It is never safe to eat rotten meat, period. As much as it sucks, throw it out. While cooking can kill viruses, bacteria, and fungi, it won't get rid of harmful toxins that are excreted by these things.
Some of the toxins can cause mild symptoms such as an upset stomach, but other toxins can lead to serious illness, hospitalization, or even death. Food poisoning caused by meat is less common than the type caused by unwashed greens, but it is nonetheless dangerous.
Can I Trim Off the Parts of a Spoiled Steak?
It might be tempting to try and trim off areas of a steak that have a brownish color but not too bad of a smell, but this is a really bad idea. The toxins that are released can seep throughout the meat and contaminate the entire cut. The overall flavor of the meat will be rancid, even when you trim off the rotten parts.
Is Freezer-Burned Steak Safe to Eat?
Freezer burn often only happens to a small area of a piece of meat that is exposed to air. In this case, you can simply cut the part off that has a brownish color and the rest of the meat should be fine.
If the freezer burn damage is extensive, it is best to use the meat for dog food or throw it out. Cooking meat that has freezer burn won't fix the damage.
Freezer burn does not introduce the possibility of food poisoning, it only leaves the steak dry and off-tasting. So technically, it is fine to eat freezer-burned steak if you want to, but we don't recommend it.
It is possible to make sausage with freezer-burned meat, but the flavor could still be off.
Dogs don't seem to mind the taste, though and there is still plenty of nutritional value in a freezer-burned cooked steak.
How to Prevent Steak from Going Bad
Prevention starts with knowing all the signs of spoiled steak. When you are at the butcher counter or the grocery store, look for steaks that are red. Bright red and dark red are both good signs of fresh red meat but avoid brown or grey steak. If there is a significant amount of red liquid in the plastic wrap, the steak has been improperly handled and won't be very juicy or tender. If it smells bad through the packaging, don't buy it. You can also tell when a steak is bad by feeling for toughness. A steak should be tender.
Don't forget to look at the sell-by date. This isn't the same as an expiration date, but it will give you an idea of the freshness of the meat. The use-by date should be within 24 hours of the sell-by date unless the meat is frozen.
Keep Reading: How to Tell If Steak Is Bad: 5 Telltale Signs
Storing meat is the biggest culprit for causing spoilage. If you are planning on cooking the steak within the next 24 hours, it is fine to keep it in the refrigerator. Just be sure to keep it in the plastic wrap or transfer the steak to a sealed container.
Keeping steak fresh for long-term storage means freezing. The way to prevent freezer burn is to tightly wrap meat so it can't be exposed to air. The frozen steak will stay fresh for months if it is properly stored. The best way is to use a vacuum-sealed bag that eliminates air from contacting the frozen steak. Raw steak can be frozen and thawed out with good results. You can also wrap them with plastic wrap and aluminum foil to prevent frozen steaks from getting freezer burn. Make sure that no area of the meat is exposed. That is why it is best to use both plastic wrap and foil.
Learning how to tell if steak is bad is all about using your senses. As gross as it seems, once you have smelled a bad steak, you will never forget the odor. A slimy texture will tell if your steak is spoiled. It is important not to eat spoiled meat as it can cause serious illnesses that are no fun to deal with.
Fresh raw steak should always be properly handled and stored to limit exposure to possible contamination which may cause bad steak.
There are few more terrible feelings in the kitchen than when you realize that you let a steak go bad. Even though it might be hard to do, dispose of it. The risks associated with eating spoiled raw steaks are significant and not worth the outcome.
Next time, use a vacuum sealer to store the steaks until you are ready and you won't have to worry about spoilage or freezer burn and you will get great results from your meat, even when it's old.
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