Fresh pork should have a barely discernible odor when you take it out of the package. If your pork smells like fish instead, should you discard it? Or is it safe to cook it off and eat it anyway?
Pork Smells Like Fish
You should toss out any pork that smells like fish, rotten eggs, or ammonia. When the pork is fresh, it shouldn’t have much of a scent on its own, so these odors indicate that the meat has gone past its prime. Other signs of spoilage include a sticky or slimy texture, discoloration, and mushiness.
What To Do When Pork Smells Like Fish
If your pork smells like fish, you should toss it. When pork starts to spoil, it undergoes a series of chemical and structural changes. These changes are responsible for the scent alteration.
When you want to test pork (or any type of meat) for freshness, give it a good sniff first. If you detect the scent of ammonia, gas, fish, or sulfur (which is reminiscent of rotten eggs), discard it without cooking or tasting it first.
One caveat: Sometimes the packaging will have an “off” odor. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the pork itself is unsafe to eat.
You can eliminate this possibility by rinsing the pork, patting the meat dry, then smelling it again. If the meat smells fine, then it was probably the packaging that caused the odor. Otherwise, the pork is spoiled and should be discarded.
Can You Test Pork For Freshness Without Buying It First?
In some cases, you might be able to tell if a meat product has spoiled before you take it out of the store. If the pork has really turned the corner, you should be able to smell it as soon as you approach the meat case.
If you suspect that the pork you’ve selected might not be at its peak, ask the butcher if they can unpack it for your inspection. Reputable retailers will want to know if there’s any problem in that regard, whether you end up buying the meat or not.
You can help to prevent this issue by cultivating good relationships with your local butchers. Once you know where to buy quality meat products, you can return there with confidence.
Other Signs of Spoilage
While the smell test is the first one we perform when the freshness of the pork is in question, it’s not the only one.
Pork that has gone bad might feel slimy or sticky. You might even be able to detect a waxy or slimy appearance. Fresh pork will be tender yet slightly springy to the touch. When it’s mushy and soft, it’s no longer at its peak.
There may also be other visual changes. The meat should be light to dark pink in color. Pork with a yellow or greenish hue, or an opalescent sheen, has gone past its prime. Naturally, if you see any patches of white or green mold, discard the meat at once.
Be sure to check the underside of the pork, not just the surface. The part that’s visible through the packaging might look fine, but if the bottom part has changed color, the pork is no longer safe to eat.
Can You Eat Pork That Has Freezer Burn?
Pork that’s been stored improperly—or simply kept in the freezer too long—might be stricken with the telltale white patches that indicate freezer burn.
This phenomenon is the result of sublimation, which occurs when a substance turns from a solid to a gas without taking on a liquid form in the meantime. Essentially, the ice has transformed into a gas without melting and evaporating first.
While freezer burn causes dry patches that have a negative effect on the flavor and texture of the food, it isn’t necessarily dangerous. That said, we wouldn’t eat freezer-burned food unless we had no other choice.
You might be able to lessen the effects of freezer burn by cutting away as much of the affected area as possible, then seasoning the meat liberally to compensate for the changes in flavor. If given the option, though, we would recommend discarding the meat.
About Sell-By Dates
Pre-packaged pork products should come with at least one label to help you gauge freshness. It might say “Sell By,” “Best By,” “Best Before,” “Use By,” or some variation thereof.
These dates are useful guidelines, but you shouldn’t rely on them entirely. “Sell By,” for example, is a label that’s put in place to remind the retailers how long to display the product. The meat might still be perfectly fine to eat after this date has passed.
Our advice would be to check the dates on the package, then inspect the pork for one of the signs of spoilage listed above. If the meat still looks and smells fresh, you should be able to cook and eat it without worrying.
How Long Does Pork Stay Fresh in the Refrigerator?
Once you’ve brought the pork home, try to cook it off within 3 to 4 days. That’s the best way to ensure that the meat will still be at its peak.
What if your plans change, and you won’t be able to prepare the pork for a week or more? If that’s the case, you should wrap the packaged pork in a second layer of plastic wrap or aluminum foil and store it in the freezer until the day before you want to cook it.
Can You “Cook Off” The Bacteria From Spoiled Pork?
Unfortunately not. The bacteria that causes the chemical changes in spoiled meat will spread toxins as well. Even if the bacteria are killed off, the toxins will still be present, and these can cause serious illness when consumed.
How To Prevent Spoilage
In addition to providing the meat with the proper storage, you can help to prevent spoilage by planning ahead.
When you plan and shop for meals in advance, you’ll know exactly what you have in the fridge and when you intend to make it. That means you’re less likely to forget that you have pork on hand, thereby decreasing the risk of spoilage.
You can also use your calendar to make notes whenever you purchase meat products. When you’re planning to use meat that you have stored in the freezer, mark the date that you need to defrost it.
In addition to being unpleasant, foul-smelling pork can derail your dinner plans. By planning ahead and storing the meat properly, you should be able to circumvent this issue.