Safely store meats and poultry, and how to tell if they are spoiled.
You may have had instances of uncertainty after reaching into the fridge to unwrap steaks or the roast beef you were saving for dinner, to find it has changed colour and now has an unfamiliar green tinge to it.
I am frequently asked questions on the colour of meats and poultry, and how to tell if they are spoiled.
What can we tell from the colour?
It is useful to know that the colour of fresh meat changes depending on several factors.
The colour of meat is associated with a protein stored in the muscle called myoglobin.
Beef, lamb and goat meat have higher levels of myoglobin than pork, veal or poultry, while wild game has high levels due to their greater physical activity.
When myoglobin comes into contact with oxygen in the air, it gradually begins to oxidise and high myoglobin meats will begin to change colour from a dark red/purple to a brighter red.
This change in colour is known as blooming, and we consider this to be the ideal colour for red meat.
However, darker or lighter shades are not necessarily an indication that it is spoiled as variations will occur according to the breed, age, diet, exercise, freshness, packaging and how it is stored. For example, meat from older animals and those which benefit from more exercise, tends to be darker.
Very fresh beef as well as vacuum packed beef are purplish-red in colour.
As meat is exposed to air and light, it gradually turns cherry-red and eventually after a few days it becomes brownish-red.
Darkened beef does not mean it is spoiled and is suitable for consumption as long as it is within its best before dates.
The same goes for packaged ground beef which may be darker on the outside, while red on the inside. It is also quite normal to find steaks, with different best-before dates, in a range of shades from a cherry-red to brownish-red.
Beef will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days, or 4-12 months in the freezer.
See the Meat & Poultry Cold Food Storage Chart at the bottom of this post for storage time & temperatures.
Beef sometimes has areas which look iridescent, with a slight greenish tinge. This is due to its high iron content, fat and other compounds, as well as how light reflects on its surface. It is safe to eat.
Veal has a much lighter colour than beef. The meat of a milk-fed calf is light pink, but once the calf is weaned and starts eating grass, the flesh begins to darken.
To prevent any further discolouration of red meat, wrap the cuts well in paper and then in plastic wrap to prevent exposure to air and light.
Then store at a maximum temperature of 4℃/39℉ (this is the maximum temperature your fridge should be set to).
Poultry consists of both white and dark meat. Raw breast cuts are light pink and turn white when heated, while thighs and drumsticks are a deeper pink, turning light brown when cooked.
Younger poultry may have a slightly blueish tinge as it has less fat under the skin, and a corn-fed chicken or one fed on marigolds will have yellow meat and skin.
Young chickens may also have a little darkening around the bones when cooked as the bones have not yet fully calcified, allowing some pigment to escape. This is also natural and the meat is safe to eat.
Ideal Surface Colour Of Fresh Meat, Fish & Poultry
|Fish||pure/grey white to pink|
|Poultry||grey-white to pink|
Meat and poultry should be wrapped well and safely stored at the correct temperature to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria which could lead to food poisoning.
How to tell if meat has spoiled
If meat or poultry has passed its use by/storage date, was not packaged properly, nor stored at the correct temperature, it may no longer be fit for consumption.
These indications show spoilage in which case the meat should be thrown away:
- there may be fading or darkening in colour, often with an unusual or offensive odour
- the surface may be sticky or slimy to touch.
Meat and poultry stored in the freezer for long periods of time may develop white patches from freezer burn.
This may also happen if the packaging becomes loose allowing the contents to be exposed to air.
As long as there has been no cross-contamination from other stored ingredients, these parts are safe to eat but will be dry and tasteless, so it is best to trim them away.
Smoked and cured meats
Chemicals, such as nitrites, used for curing may also affect the colour of meat.
Smoked poultry is pink due to colour added in the smoking process.
Meat & Poultry Cold Storage Chart
|Bacon||1 week||1 month|
|Sausage||Raw sausages Chicken/turkey/pork/beef||1-2 days||1-2 months|
|Cooked sausages Chicken/turkey/pork/beef||1 week||1-2 months|
|Ground meats||Beef/turkey/veal/pork/lamb/goat/any combination||1-2 days||3-4 months|
|Fresh cuts||Fresh beef, veal, lamb, goat, pork||3-4 days||4-12 months|
|Fresh poultry||Whole chicken/turkey||1-2 days||9 months|
|Pieces chicken/turkey||1-2 days||1 year|
|Leftovers||Cooked meats/poultry||3-4 days||2-6 months|