If the ground beef turned white in the fridge or freezer, is it still safe to eat? It’s important to follow food safety guidelines, but discoloration isn’t always a sign of spoilage. So what should you do in this case?
Ground Beef Turned White
There are often white spots in ground beef due to the congealed fat that’s present throughout the mixture. Other times, the meat might turn white if it’s developed freezer burn, or if you thawed it at too high a temperature. If the ground beef has been around long enough to develop mold, that can leave white patches as well.
Ground Beef: The Basics
To make ground beef (also known as hamburger meat), butchers feed whole muscle cuts through a meat grinder. This minces the beef to give it a soft, malleable texture.
You can make ground beef yourself if you have a meat grinder, or even a food processor. This allows you to control the amount of fat that goes into the mixture, as well as the cuts that you use. Chuck, round, and sirloin all make excellent ground beef.
Although ground beef is a delicious and versatile ingredient to keep on hand, it spoils faster than whole muscle cuts. That’s because more of the surface area is exposed to the air, allowing a greater number of bacteria to take up residence there.
No matter how finely the meat is chopped, there will be numerous air pockets throughout the mixture. This is the perfect breeding ground for the pathogens that hasten food spoilage.
Contamination vs. Spoilage
Did you know that food contamination and spoilage are two different things? The end result might be similar if you consume the food, but the terms aren’t interchangeable.
Contaminated food has been adversely affected by unwanted substances. Bacteria are possible contaminants, but if the food has come into contact with any chemicals or dirt, ingesting it could lead to food poisoning.
The thing to remember about contaminated food is that it may look and smell fine. The offending substances won’t necessarily result in any untoward smells, changes in texture, or discoloration.
When perishable ingredients hang around long enough, they collect spoilage bacteria. These do result in foul smells, discoloration, and unpleasant textural changes. Fortunately, these signs are sufficient to prevent most people from consuming spoiled food.
Ground Beef Turned White in Fridge
Fresh ground beef usually ranges in color from pink to cherry red. If it’s turning white, or if it already had a whitish hue when you bought it, there are several possible explanations.
Beef with a high fat content can have white spots or patches throughout the mixture. These are pockets of congealed fat, and they’re nothing to worry about unless the meat is showing other signs of spoilage (see below).
When you’re making burgers, a fat content of at least 20 percent is preferable. You want the fat to render and create a nice juicy texture. Lean ground beef might be a more health-conscious choice, but it doesn’t make a great burger.
If you stored the ground beef in the freezer, those patches of white are likely due to freezer burn. This phenomenon occurs when the meat comes into direct contact with the freezing air.
Inspect the white bits to check for ice crystals. The meat will still be safe to consume if it’s freezer-burnt, but it may be on the dry side.
Alternatively, you can pan-fry a small amount of the thawed ground beef over high heat. If the white color is due to spoilage, it will give off a strange sour odor. Discard the meat if you notice anything odd about the scent.
You can prevent freezer burn from occurring in the future by wrapping the meat tightly and pressing excess air out of the package beforehand. Try to defrost and cook ground beef within 2 to 3 months.
The best way to defrost ground beef is to keep it in the fridge until it’s no longer rock solid. If the meat thaws at too high a temperature, parts of it may cook and turn grayish-white while the rest is still frozen.
Ground beef that’s thawed in the fridge should be ready to use within a day. It’s preferable to cook it as soon as it’s defrosted. You can even start cooking it while it’s still frozen, as long as it cooks to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.
When thawing meat in a water bath, always use cold water, never warm or hot. It’s a good idea to swap out the cold water every half hour to prevent it (and the meat) from warming up to room temperature.
Try not to use the microwave for thawing meat. If you must, make sure to use the lowest setting, and rotate the meat often to ensure that it defrosts and doesn’t start to cook through.
Remember that when meat is thawed in either cold water or the microwave, you’ll need to cook it off right away. The good news is that if the ground beef turns white as the result of your thawing practices, it should still be safe to consume.
How To Tell if Ground Beef is Spoiled
If the white spots on your ground beef have a fuzzy appearance, they’re not caused by fat or freezer burn—those are probably patches of mold. It goes without saying that you should discard any moldy food at once, even if you only suspect that mold is the culprit.
Watch out for other signs of discoloration as well. Sometimes, the ground beef might turn brown in a few places due to lack of oxygen. This usually isn’t anything to worry about, but if the meat is more gray than brown, or if it’s developed mold, then toss it.
Fresh ground beef should be firm and slightly sticky to the touch, but not overly tacky or slimy. Discard the meat if the texture seems off to you.
Finally, as we mentioned before, ground beef shouldn’t have much of a scent. Once the spoilage bacteria begin to multiply, though, the meat will give off a foul aroma that should warn you against consuming it. Throw the beef away if you notice a strong odor.
How To Keep Ground Beef Fresh
Ground beef only retains its best qualities for a day or two. It’s in your best interests to cook it off as soon as possible after you’ve brought it home from the store.
Before purchase, check the sell-by date on the package. This is in place to remind the store how long the product has been on the shelf. Though it doesn’t necessarily serve as an indicator of freshness, you want the sell-by date to be at least two days away.
If you aren’t cooking the beef the same day, keep it tightly wrapped and store it on the bottom shelf of the fridge, well away from the door. Exposure to heat and light will hasten spoilage, so only take it out of the fridge when you’re ready to cook it.
Don’t store the meat in the refrigerator for longer than 2 days. Transfer it to the freezer if you aren’t going to be able to cook it within that time frame. You might want to divide it into smaller portions first, so you can thaw only as much as you need.
We prefer to freeze ground beef in half-pound batches, but you can use whatever measurements work for you. Don’t forget to label each package with the weight, the contents, and the date.
As long as there are no other signs of spoilage, ground beef that’s turned white should be nothing to worry about. If the color bothers you, opt for different storage techniques or leaner beef the next time around.