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How to Tell If Steak Is Bad in 2024

For those curious about the freshness of your steak, there are a few telltale hints to note. To begin with, check the aroma – steak that is off will emit a powerful, tangy, and unpleasant scent. The color is another giveaway. If the steak shows a tinge of gray or brown, it’s possibly gone bad. Lastly, scrutinize its feel. If the meat has a slimy touch, it’s potentially rotten.

Improper storage or leaving steak for too long can cause it to spoil. In this article, we will explore the signs of spoiled steak in more detail. By the end of this article, readers will be able to confidently identify whether their steak has gone bad and take the necessary steps to ensure they are consuming fresh and safe meat.

#1. It Smells Bad

If the steak smells pungent, sour, or almost like ammonia, it is probably not safe to eat. The smell indicates that harmful bacteria may have begun to colonize, which can lead to an upset stomach or worse. However, if you’re dealing with dry-aged steak, be careful. The dry-aging process can cause a perfectly good steak to smell off due to the lactic acid that’s released as it’s dry-aging. So, it’s important to trust your nose and use your best judgment when it comes to the smell of your steak.

#2. Textural Changes

Spoiled steak will feel slimy or sticky when touched, indicating the presence of bacteria in the meat. It may also feel excessively wet. A good steak should feel firm but tender to the touch and “bounce back” quickly when pressed with a finger. Texture is an important indicator of the quality and safety of steak.

#3. Discoloration

Discoloration is one of the most obvious signs that your steak has gone bad. A fresh steak should have a vibrant red or pinkish color, but a spoiled steak may have small patches of brown, yellow, or green, and it will look shinier than usual. If you notice any of these discolorations, it is best to discard the steak immediately. Spoiled steak will get this discoloration for a few days, before it begins to mold.

#4. Mold

If mold is present on the surface of the steak, it is a clear indication that the meat has gone bad and should not be consumed. Mold can appear in different colors such as white, green, or black and may have a fuzzy texture. It is important to discard any steak that shows signs of mold to avoid the risk of food poisoning.

#5. It’s Past The Use-By Date

When checking if a steak is still good to eat, one of the best indicators is the different “best by dates” on the packaging. If the steak has a use-by date and it has passed, it’s important to check it over for other signs of being bad. Here are some sub-sections to help you understand the different types of “best by dates.”

Sell-By Date

The sell-by date is the last day the grocery store should put the steak out for sale. This date serves as a guideline for the store to know when to pull items from the shelves. However, it’s not an expiration date, and your steak may still be good to eat 3-5 days past the sell-by date. It’s important to note that the quality of the meat may decline as it becomes less fresh with each passing day.

Packed-On Date

Some butchers, like at Whole Foods, have a packed-on date they print on their labels. This date indicates when the steak was packaged and is not an expiration date. You can use it as guidance for how long you should keep the steak in your refrigerator. It’s recommended that you either cook or freeze your steak within 3-5 days of the packed-on date.

Use-By Date

The use-by date is the last date the steak will be at its peak quality. If your steak is past the use-by date and you haven’t frozen it, then it may no longer be good to eat. While the use-by date is helpful, it’s not a guarantee that your steak will be bad. It’s important to check for other signs of spoilage, such as a bad smell, slimy appearance, or dryness.

Expiration Date

An expiration date on a steak indicates the last day you should eat it. However, it’s important to note that not all steaks have an expiration date. If you plan on freezing your steak before the expiration date passes, then you don’t have to worry about it.

Storage and Handling


When storing steak in the refrigerator, it is best to keep it in its original packaging or a sealed plastic bag to maintain optimal freshness. This prevents the meat from being exposed to oxygen, which can make it spoil faster. It is recommended to keep the refrigerator temperature between 34°F and 40°F. Steak can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days before it starts to spoil. If you want to extend its shelf life for a day or two, you can vacuum-seal it to minimize air exposure. To prevent any juices from leaking out and contaminating other foods, you can place the steak (in its bag) on a plate.


Frozen meat can keep for a long time and still taste good. To freeze steak, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap first, and then place it in a Ziploc bag to eliminate as much air as possible. This step helps prevent freezer burn and will help keep your steak good for up to 12 months. It is recommended to label and date the Ziploc bag so you know exactly when you placed it in the freezer. Before cooking meat, you’ll need to thaw it out first. The best method for thawing frozen steak is to place it in your refrigerator for 24 hours.

Room Temperature

It is fine to leave your steak out at room temperature right before you’re going to cook it. This allows the steak to come to room temperature, which may result in a more evenly cooked steak. However, it is risky to leave steak out at room temperature for too long (1-2 hours), as there’s a risk of bacterial growth and the steak going bad. This is especially true when the meat is between 40F degrees and 140F degrees, which is known as the “danger zone” for bacterial growth.

Risks and Precautions

Food Poisoning

Spoiled steak can lead to food poisoning. Bacteria that grow on the steak can produce toxins that can cause stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and other unpleasant issues. It is best to avoid eating steak that is past its prime.

Dry-Aged vs. Spoiled Steak

It can be difficult to differentiate between dry-aged and spoiled steak. Here are some ways to tell the difference:

Dry-Aged SteakSpoiled Steak
ColorDarker than fresh steak due to water lossDarker with a gray or brown shade
SmellNutty or earthySour, strong, or like cleaning products
LookDried out and slightly wrinklySlimy or sticky

If the steak looks discolored, it might be hard to tell whether it is dry-aged or spoiled. Dry-aged steak is darker due to water loss, while spoiled steak might have a weird gray or brown shade. Dry-aged steak smells nutty or earthy, while spoiled steak smells sour, strong, or like cleaning products. Dry-aged steak looks dried out and slightly wrinkly, while spoiled steak can feel slimy or sticky.


Is It Safe to Eat Steak That Has Turned Brown?

No, it is not safe to eat steak that has turned brown. Brown steak is a sign that the meat has been exposed to oxygen, which can lead to bacterial growth and spoilage. Oxidation causes the meat to lose its flavor and texture, making it unappetizing.

What Should Good Steak Smell Like?

Good, fresh steak should have a slightly sweet and metallic smell. If the steak smells sour, rancid, or has a strong, pungent odor, it is likely spoiled and should not be consumed.

How Long Can Steak Last in the Fridge?

Steak can last in the fridge for 3-5 days, but this is only a general guideline. Factors such as the cut of meat, storage conditions, and the freshness of the meat when purchased can all affect how long it will last. It is always best to use your senses to determine if the steak is still good. If it smells bad, has a slimy texture, or has an off color, it’s best to err on the side of caution and throw it out.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Determine if Cooked Steak has Gone Bad?

To determine if cooked steak has gone bad, it is essential to pay attention to its appearance, texture, and smell. A bad steak may have a slimy texture, an unpleasant odor, and a grey or brown color. If the steak has been left at room temperature for more than two hours, it is best to discard it.

How to Tell if Frozen Steak has Gone Bad?

Frozen steak can last up to six months in the freezer, but it can still go bad. Signs of bad frozen steak include freezer burn, discoloration, and a bad odor. It is best to thaw the steak in the refrigerator and check for signs of spoilage before cooking.

What are the Signs of Bad Beef?

The signs of bad beef include a bad odor, a slimy texture, and a brown or grey color. If the beef has been left at room temperature for more than two hours, it is best to discard it. Additionally, beef that has been packaged in torn or damaged packaging may be contaminated and should not be consumed.

What are the Signs of Spoiled Steak?

The signs of spoiled steak include a bad odor, a slimy texture, and a grey or brown color. If the steak has been left at room temperature for more than two hours, it is best to discard it. Additionally, if the steak has been packaged in torn or damaged packaging, it may be contaminated and should not be consumed.

Is it Safe to Eat Steak if it Smells a Little?

No, it is not safe to eat steak that smells even a little bit off. A bad odor is a sign of spoilage and bacterial growth, which can lead to food poisoning. It is best to discard the steak and not take any chances with your health.

Can Brown Steak still be Good to Eat?

Brown steak can still be good to eat if it has been properly stored and cooked. However, if the steak has a slimy texture, a bad odor, or a grey or brown color, it is best to discard it. Additionally, if the steak has been left at room temperature for more than two hours, it is not safe to eat.


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