Is it safe to buy meat when the “sell by” date is about to expire? How safe is it to buy beef or fish at a reduced price because the “sell by” date is about to expire? What are signs of bad steak? Does browning around the edges indicate it’s spoiled? [CR]


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  1. edwardso says:

    I buy discount meat all the time for the dog. Most reputable grocery stores are fairly conservative with the sell by dates (I used to work in one and was friends with a butcher with 25 years experience)

  2. dangermike says:

    you can usually tell by the smell. If it smells like raw meat, it’s still good. If it smells like rotten meat, it’s probably rotten. A little bit of greying won’t hurt you (in many cases, if prepared properly, it can taste jut as good or better) but other colors, aside from the blue and purple inspection stamps, should serve as a warning. If the surface is oily or the meat is greenish, it’s bad. But by that point, it’ll smell pretty foul.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @dangermike: This would work better if my sense of smell weren’t awful. :) It’s got to be WAY spoiled for me to smell the difference, so I have to put trust in the expiry dates.

  3. IcePirate_GitEmSteveDave says:

    I’ve cooked meat that’s been sitting in my freezer for years, and have on more than one occasion “forgotten” about meat in my fridge for a few days past the seel by date. As long as it smells pretty good, I usually make a stew or something so that I know the meat is cooked all the way through, and all the little baddies will be dead.

  4. Outrun1986 says:

    Smell it, and if it smells fine you can use it. If it has a bad odor do not use it at all! You really shouldn’t be using any kind of fresh meat, fish or other fresh product that has even a little bit of a bad smell to it. Most stores will take back bad meat no questions asked, and some give double your money back. Otherwise you can just make sure its fully cooked and you should be fine.

  5. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I buy meat close to the expiration date as long as I know I’ll be using it within the week. I used to freeze it, but I try not to anymore because I usually forget about it.

  6. sleze69 says:

    From the article:

    You should buy fish and meat before the sell-by date and generally either use within a day or so or freeze it, food scientist Linda Greene says. In general, less-than-fresh food won’t make you sick, as long as it’s handled properly and kept at 40° F or colder, but don’t eat it if there’s a color change and an off-odor. Meat darkens when exposed to air, so a change in color alone doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone bad, but don’t eat it if it’s slimy or tacky. Fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour, or ammonia-like. The flesh should be shiny and firm and should spring back when pressed.

  7. pb5000 says:

    I’ve gotten plenty of impromptu meals based on what’s marked down at the grocery store, it’s fine as long as you use it within a day or two.

  8. HPCommando says:

    Browning is simply oxidation; literally, the meat is ‘rusting’ because the water is evaporating. If you want an example, think “beef jerky”.

    So long as it’s in a clean and cold environment, bacterial contamination/spoilage isn’t an issue for about a week, especially if its still wrapped.

    The problem is most of the cello/plasti-wrap meat has micro-tears or holes from little kids at the store, which exposes the meat to the environment, and the penetration causes the bacterial infestation. Meat can go in a day, depending on where the kid’s finger was beforehand (and assuming your butcher is competent on sanitation issues).

    My rules of thumb from being a former cook:

    Beef: Keep at 36-40 degrees if not freezing. If it has a smell like rotting meat, toss it. If its freezer burnt, make soup or chili.

    Chicken: Feels slimy? Toss it. Smells like fish? Toss it. Turning yellowish-white/lighter color (both exposed and under the skin)? Toss it or give it to cats; if its just the exposed meat, you should be okay.

    Fish: Keep frozen until time to use. Thaw under cold running water when needed right away, or thaw overnight if planned meal. If fresh, check under the skin (if any) or around the bones (if any) for signs of dry meat.

    When in doubt, toss it out.

    • lockdog says:

      @HPCommando: Don’t blame the kids! During my high school days at the neighborhood grocery store it wasn’t the kids who put holes in all cello-wrapped meat, it was the women with their long fingernails. The little crescent shaped cut is the dead giveaway. The butchers would often complain that one careless woman going through their section could easily ruin 15-20 package each trip. The produce managers had simlar things to say, especially during stone-fruit season (peaches, plums, etc.) I buy from the reduced meat section from time to time, but use the presence of even a tiny amount of grey oxidation as the signal that the package has a hole in it. Nothing worse than going around the store with raw chicken goo on your hands because you picked up a torn or leaking package.

  9. chrisjames says:

    We ignore the dates, just like the meat itself does. Bad meat is often obviously bad. Like everyone says, smell it for best results.

    Psychologically, however, we prefer not to use meat past a few days from purchase. We’ve found that after 3 or 4 days, the grocery store ground beef will go bad in a blink. Just *poof* it’s stinky and gross. I don’t freeze anything besides ice cream, flour, and puff-pastry, but I’d probably still worry about frozen meats.

  10. The Porkchop Express says:

    That browning? I think at fancy places they call it aging. as in aged to perfection type stuff.

  11. balls187 says:

    In the US, it’s generally not safe to buy meat period.

    USDA and Dept of Agriculture haven’t been looking out for the safety of the american people for quite sometime.

    • floraposte says:

      @balls187: It’s perfectly safe if you cook everything to a safe temperature and practice basic kitchen hygiene, though. It’s also by no means a U.S. only issue, as witness the recent dioxin contamination issue in Europe.

      I prefer my beef medium rare myself, but I’m willing to take that chance.

      • balls187 says:

        @floraposte: Yes, this is true, and I only mentioned the US, because that is where I live, and I don’t wish to speak for other countries.

        However how many people know (without looking it up) what the proper cooking temps are for chicken, beef, and pork?

        How many people actually use a meat thermometer to ensure their food has been cooked properly?

        I’ve known of one person who did this. My dad, the county health inspector.

        Also, cooking doesn’t do anything to prevent the problems associated with growth hormones, antibiotics, and mad cow disease.

    • Ratty says:

      @balls187: I buy hormone-free and antibiotic-free meat and use a probe thermometer when necessary. Most whole cuts of meat I use I can see when it’s at the right temperature just from cooking practice. Haven’t been sick from my own food in ages and ages. *shrug*

  12. nakedscience says:

    I suddenly crave steak.

  13. calquist says:

    I wish my rabbit was a meat-eater. She is lovely garbage disposal for most foods that aren’t bad, but aren’t quite good anymore either.

  14. sonneillon says:

    Yeah but products that are sealed using Modified atmosphere packaging will look a nice red and smell fresh even when they have turned into liquid nasty. Even working in the wholesale industry I have a hard time telling when CO2 package material is no longer good by just inspection.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I rarely buy meat that isn’t discounted because it’s close to a sell-by date. Used to work for a butcher – we dry aged meat for up to two weeks in a cold store before cutting & selling. Never did us any harm . . . . .

  16. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    calquist: My rabbit will gladly eat lettuce that is past it’s salad prime and celery that is just a little too rubbery. He seems just as happy with a piece of banana regardless of how mushy it is. Actually, I think he prefers his banana mushier.

  17. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    pecan 3.14159265: Daaaaamn….its, not it’s.

  18. nakedscience says:

    uh, lls187? dogs can handle meat that we humans can’t. Dogs aren’t human. It’s not at all abnormal to give dogs meat that is past the due date.

    They, you know, hunt and eat raw animal meat all the time. It’s what they are made for, since they are dogs and all.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      @nakedscience: Uh nakedscience – hunting and eating raw meat sort of indicates it is FRESH.

    • balls187 says:

      @nakedscience: I’m assuming you were talking to me.

      First, giving your dog raw meat, and giving your dog “spoiled” meat are two different things.

      Second, there are enough vets that disagree with the raw-meat diet for dogs because of the potential for salmonella and other food borne illnesses that aren’t normally found in wild animals.

      Finally, dogs have been domesticated for centuries. The dogs that live with us may have some of their pack mentality, but that hardly means they should be fed uncooked, spoiled food.

      And yes, it’s not abnormal to give your dog spoiled meat. That doesn’t mean it’s good for your dog.

  19. nakedscience says:

    and that should have been balls187, my copy-pasta fails.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I wouldn’t eat off-smelling fish or chicken, but I was wondering about the difference between expired supermarket beef vs aged beef.

    We purchased a grass fed steer with some other people and the meat was hung for several weeks in a cooler. Curious to know what is different about that treatment that makes it okay to eat.

  21. MinervaAutolycus says:

    I buy meat near the sell-by date all the time and freeze it immediately. I’ve gotten some fine filet mignon and other good cuts this way. Wrap ’em up good (I wrap in foil, then put in plastic bag, air squeezed out) and mark the packages so you know it’s there. I’ve found, though, the long-term freezing — like a year or so, when we’ve accidentally forgotten a package — will affect the taste. But otherwise, it grills up really good.

  22. TootTootToot says:

    As others have said, smell is always your best indicator. Some meatpackers seal their product with carbon monoxide, which extends the shelf-life but also completely eliminates discoloration.

    For visual proof (yikes): []

  23. The_IT_Crone says:

    Important to note that a LOT of places now chemically treat their meat so that it looks “red” longer (not oxidized or whatever). So just because it’s not brown doens’t mean it’s fresher than the brown stuff in the other package.

    /just got a pack of fillet mignon for like $4 because it was before expiry, but not chemically treated so it was a little dark. MMMMMMMMMM!!!!!

  24. HogwartsAlum says:

    Whatever you do, when you open it make sure you use it right away, especially with fish or seafood. I accidentally let a bag of shrimp decay in my fridge and it took me a week to get the smell out of my kitchen!

    I need a fridge with the freezer on the bottom. I’m so tall that when I put stuff on the shelves, I can’t see it. The shrimp migrated to the back and WHEW! It spoiled some other stuff in there too. Not only was it a mess, but a waste of money. :P

  25. fatcop says:

    People are not animals, and therefore what is acceptable to feed to an animal is not the same as a person. Animals can handle pretty much anything you give them outside of intentionally trying to poison them with chemicals. They eat dead animals, dogshit, dirt, grass, anything. It won’t hurt them unless you are TRYING to hurt them.

    People need to stop this equating people and animals nonsense. Animals are just future food, clothing, products and nothing more.

  26. discounteggroll says:

    you can always feed it to the zombies

    sorry, had to be done