Is It Safe To Cook Ground Beef That's Turned Brown?

If you often cook with ground beef, there's a pretty good chance that you've noticed some color changes in the meat and decideded to just toss it. But do you need to do that?

Even before you get the chance to use it, it's common for ground beef to turn brown. But while it may be off-putting to see your meat appear a shade other than the bright pink you purchased it in, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirms that it's typically still safe to eat (though, of course, it's always smart to check for funky smells or other signs of spoilage). That's because the color change has nothing to do with bacteria formation, but rather the meat's exposure to oxygen. 

Specifically, as the USDA explains, oxygen reacts with the oxymyoglobin pigment in the meat to create that characteristic red color on the surface. The keyword here is "surface," as the rest of the meat that hasn't touched oxygen will be a gray-brown color. Now, there are some limitations to the color change rule. If all the meat in the package has turned gray or brown, then chances are that it is, in fact, in the process of going bad. For meat to have been exposed to oxygen for so long that it's turned brown through and through, it's no longer fresh.

How to store ground beef properly

Sure you can buy a small package of ground beef every time you need it for a recipe. But take a quick glance at the price tags at your local butcher or grocery store meat department, and you'll often see that it's much more cost-effective to just get a three-pound log and freeze what you don't need right away. According to Miss Vickie, freezing is the most effective way to preserve the quality and prolong the shelf life of your ground beef. Browning will still occur regardless, but it's nothing to worry about as long as you seal it properly and make sure that your freezer is operating at a sufficiently cold temperature. Miss Vickie recommends at least 32 degrees Fahrenheit, though the FDA is more stringent with its temperatures and recommends an even colder 0 Fahrenheit. 

According to Food52, ground beef can technically keep for up to 12 months in the freezer, but if you want to avoid any flavor loss or freezer burn, three to four months is best. It will turn brown in the process, but it's still perfectly fine to cook with.