Can you still cook and eat a steak that’s gone past its sell by date? What do those dates on the package mean, anyway? Our guide is here to provide the answers.
How Long is Steak Good After Sell By Date?
A steak might be good for several days after its sell by date. Retailers use this date to remind them how long the steak has been on display. In general, you should cook the steak within 3 to 5 days of bringing it home. If it shows any warning signs like a foul odor, discoloration, or a slimy texture, it’s better to discard it.
What is a Sell By Date?
After packaging a cut of meat for sale, retailers will often mark it with a date (sometimes more than one; see section below for more details). This “sell by” date is in place to remind the store’s employees how long they have to display the meat.
Since meat will start to go downhill in terms of quality after a few days, the store doesn’t want to leave it out there too long. So if the sell by date has gone by and they still haven’t sold the meat, they’ll take it off the shelf.
What happens next may vary depending on the type of business it is. If they sell hot food to go, they might turn the steak into a shepherd’s pie, or slice it up and use it to make sandwiches. Of course, that’s assuming the steak is still reasonably fresh.
If the steak has started to show signs of spoilage (more on that later), or if the business doesn’t have any way to use the steak, they might discard it. But it’s important to note that the meat isn’t necessarily spoiled just because it’s gone past that date.
Are Sell By Dates and Use By Dates the Same Thing?
Sometimes, you’ll see a “use by” date alongside (or instead of) the “sell by” date on a package. While this date can certainly be useful to the retailer, it comes in especially handy to the consumer.
The use by date is in place to provide you with a guideline as to when you should cook and enjoy the steak. Once that date goes by, there’s a chance that the meat won’t be as fresh as you would expect.
Again, the steak isn’t necessarily bad after the use by date has gone by. You should inspect it to see if it still seems fresh. We’ve provided a few guidelines on this topic in How To Tell if Steak Has Gone Bad, below.
How Long is Steak Good After Sell By Date?
Since the sell by date is set at the discretion of the retailer, there’s no hard and fast rule as to how long the steak will last after that date. In general, though, you can expect it to keep for two or three days longer.
Sometimes, the steak will start to exhibit signs of spoilage even before the sell by date. This is rare, but it’s something to be aware of. That’s why every home chef should know how to distinguish fresh meat from meat that’s gone bad.
How Long Does Steak Keep in the Fridge?
On average, steak should keep for 3 to 5 days after the date of purchase.
The total shelf life depends on a number of factors. First of all, if the steak was already on display for several days when you bought it, it won’t keep as long as it would if you’d purchased it immediately after it was presented for sale.
The storage conditions are another factor to consider. Keep meat products stored on a lower shelf in the fridge, pushed toward the back. They’ll stay colder that way, which will keep them fresh longer.
The steak’s shelf life can also be affected by the packaging. Vacuum-sealed meat will keep longer than meat that’s wrapped in styrofoam and plastic. Since exposure to oxygen hastens bacterial growth, a tightly wrapped steak will be less prone to spoilage.
How Long Does Steak Keep in the Freezer?
When you know you won’t have a chance to cook your steak off within a few days, it’s a good idea to freeze it instead. Since bacterial growth halts at temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, steak should keep in the freezer indefinitely.
That said, it’s not a good idea to leave the meat in there too long. While it won’t spoil, the long exposure to freezing temperatures will dry out the steak. Try to thaw and cook off any frozen steak within 4 to 6 months.
Before putting the steak in the freezer, take it out of its original packaging. This will help minimize the exposure to air, so fewer ice crystals will form on the surface. Wrap it tightly in plastic, then add a layer of aluminum foil.
The best way to defrost frozen meat is to keep it in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to start thawing, take the wrapped steak out of the freezer and set it on a plate. The plate should be large enough to catch any juices that might leak out of the packaging.
Set the plate on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. It’s better to keep it toward the back, so it stays colder as it thaws. Depending on how big the steak is, it should thaw in 8 to 24 hours.
Steak will thaw faster if you put the package in cold water, but you should take care to ensure that it’s tightly wrapped before you submerge it. When defrosted in this manner, most steaks can be ready for the grill in an hour or two.
How To Tell if Steak Has Gone Bad
Since the sell by date isn’t always a reliable indicator of freshness, you’re better off relying on your senses.
First of all, smell the meat after you unwrap it. Fresh raw steak shouldn’t smell like much of anything. Once it starts to spoil, though, it will give off a sulfur-like odor. It may also smell sour, or even sweet. That’s when you know it’s time to throw it out.
One exception to this rule is steak that’s been wrapped in cryovac packaging. In this case, the meat might have a tangy aroma when you first open it. In this case, as long as the meat is within date and was properly stored, the smell is nothing to worry about.
Spoiled steak might also feel sticky or slimy to the touch, owing to the bacteria that have taken up residence on the surface. If you notice anything off about the texture, throw the steak out without cooking it.
You can also inspect the steak for discoloration. A few brown spots are nothing to worry about, especially the meat was previously frozen. But if it’s turned an unappetizing grayish color, or if you see any patches of mold, discard the steak.
The Bottom Line
It’s best to use the sell by date as a guideline for helping you determine how long the steak might keep in the fridge. You shouldn’t rely on it as an indicator of freshness.
The steak might be fine for days afterward, or it might have gone bad already. By all means, check the date, but you should always inspect the steak itself before deciding whether or not to cook it.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!