How to Tell if Steak is Bad – Tips to Spot Raw or Frozen Steak

Even though storing steak in the refrigerator can slow down the spoiling process and help you store it for a couple of days, still, the meat will not stay fresh forever.

If it is not stored properly, has been in the refrigerator or freezer for a long time, then the meat will eventually go bad and become spoiled. This is the last thing you want as it comes with the risk of making you sick or even die from food poisoning.

The most common sign people know to spot a spoiled steak is the change in color. But, color changes are not the most accurate way to tell if the steak is bad or not. Color changes are completely normal for fresh meats, so it is better to know a couple of different ways to help you tell if the steak has gone bad or not.

4 Signs Your Steak has Gone Bad or Spoiled

If you are in a hurry, here it is a short list of the signs to have in mind to find out if the meat is safe to eat or not:

  • The Use-By-Date Has Passed
  • Strong Cheesy Like Smell
  • Slimy Appearance & Texture
  • You have stored in the fridge for weeks

Let’s jump to each one of them and get into more details:

The Use-By-Date has Passed


Steak's Use-By-Date

This is pretty straightforward for most people. If the use-by-date has passed, then it is a clear sign to help you tell if the steak is bad or not.

Have in mind that it is a big difference between the sell-by-date and the use-by-date. Most people mistake these dates for each other.

The sell-by-date is the date that the store needs to sell the meat. So, if the sell-by-date is 2nd of June, the store must sell the meat by that time to give the customer the needed time to store or cook it. In general, the steak is still safe to eat even if the sell-by-date has passed by a couple of days.

As for the use-by-date, if it is June 15th, you need to cook or freeze the meat by that date. After that date has passed, there is a good chance it will go bad and spoiled. Keep in mind that if you put the meat in the freezer by the use-by-date, that date no longer apply. So, use this date only as a reference when the steak is not in the freezer.

And, if you put the steak on freezer before its use-by-date, make sure to leave enough time for it to thaw and still be safe to eat. For example, if the use-by-date is on 1st of July, you can get the steak on freezer by 28th of June, which will give you a 2-3-day window to get the steak thawed before it could spoil.

Strong Cheesy Like Smell

I know that raw meat doesn’t necessarily smell the greatest but you will instantly tell a difference between a good to consume steak and a spoiled steak.

A spoiled steak will have a potent scent that no longer smells like usual raw meat but has an ammonia-clad aroma, somehow like a cheesy-like smell. Be careful to not mistake the cheese-like smell of dry aged steaks which come as a result of produced lactic acid during the aging process with the spoiled steak smell. So, if you have a dry age steak, then you should use different methods to tell if it is bad or not as the smell test may be easily mistaken.

As for other steak cuts, just use your nose to sense the smell. If it smells like rotten and rancid, then discard it right away.

Slimy Appearance & Texture

Image Credits: HowCast

If you can see or feel with your fingers a slimy film on the surface of the steak, then it is a sign of spoilage. Usually, the slime is clear or light yellow in color but will make the meat appear shinier than usual.

Also, when you touch it, it has a slippery or sticky feel, which is very noticeable, especially if you have cooked raw steaks several times. This slimy film is usually created just before the meat starts to mold and go bad.

Another noticeable sign of steak gone bad is when several color patches are created on the surface. If you notice colors like brown, yellow or green instead of the red, pinkish meat color, then your steak is spoiled. These colors usually appear on small patches rather than the whole surface, but still, they are a clear sign to not eat the meat.

Been in Refrigerator for a Long Time

If you have put the steak in the refrigerator for a long time, then there is a high possibility of steak gone bad.

The best thing to do when you put the meat in the fridge, is to write the use-by-date if it isn’t already written on the package. 


Refrigerated Steak

You can leave most steak cuts for 3-5 days without any issue but if you can’t remember for how long it has been in the fridge, then it is probably not safe to consume.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Spot a Bad Steak

Even though we explained with details all the signs of a bad steak, here it is a step-by-step guide for you to follow and check if the meat is good or not.

Step 1 - Examine the Expiration Date

Start by first reading the expiration date. Fresh and frozen meat has a date that is intended to be sold and to be consumed.

For red meat and steak, it is 1-3 days if it is raw and 7-10 days if it is cooked and kept on the recommended temperature.

Step 2 - Examine the Color of the Steak

Next, you need to examine the color of the steak. A green or brownish color on the surface is a clear sign that the meat is bad. The mold has started to grow and it is unsafe to be consumed.

Step 3 - Sense the Meat Smell

If the meat has an unpleasant odor, then it is probably spoiled. The foul odor is very similar to the sulfur or ammonia smell.

When doing the smell test, make sure to not press your nose against the meat but just simply cup your hand near the meat and move it towards your face and see if you can smell anything.

Step 4 - Examine the Meat Surface by Touching

If the steak is spoiled, then it will have a sticky and slimy surface. This is caused by the growth of Bacteria and is a clear sign that the meat is unsafe to cook.

Step 5 - Calculate How Many Days it has been on the Fridge

If your meat has been on the fridge for a long time, then it is probably spoiled, so throw it away.

Red meat and steak can last on the fridge for 3-5 days. Anything more than that, it is not safe.

What Happens if You Cook a Spoiled Steak?

If the meat is bad, then it is a breeding ground for a lot of harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, Bacillus, Escherichia coli, etc.

Based on the US Department of Agriculture, the bacteria double in number every 20 minutes, if the meat is left on temperature from 40°F to 140°F.

Spoiled Steak - MomAtMeatCounter

After you start cooking meat, the heat will kill bacteria. The Salmonella and the E. coli are destroyed when the meat reaches a 150°F temperature. But, even though these two bacteria are killed with heat, there are still toxins remaining in the meat. Also, the Bacillus and Clostridium bacteria survive freezing and cooking, so they become the meat unsafe to eat.

So, what happens if you cook a spoiled steak? Even though some bacteria are killed with heat, a couple of them will survive freezing or heat, making the meat unsafe to be consumed.

If you notice a single sign of meat going bad, you better throw it away, no matter how expensive it is. 

How to Prevent Meat Spoilage

We prepared a short list with a couple of ways to prevent the meat from spoiling. However, have in mind that these tips will not help you to keep your steak fresh forever.

  • Don’t leave the meat at room temperature for a long period of time as it increases the risk of spoilage. If you don’t plan to cook anytime soon, place it in the fridge or freezer.
  • Store the Meat at the recommended temperature, which is around 40°F. If the meat has been staying for many hours or even days at room temperature, then throw it away.
  • Freeze it if you don’t plan to eat it anytime soon. The freezer can last the meat life and make it safe to consume even after a couple of days have passed. Keep in mind that the freezer will not make the meat last forever but just for a few weeks or months.
  • Thaw it using your microwave and not the kitchen counter. This way fewer bacteria are grown.
  • Don’t eat expired or unrefrigerated meat.
  • Keep an eye on the meat’s internal temperature while cooking. You should target internal temperature of 120 to 165°F for the best results.


How Long Can Steak Stay in the Fridge?

Refrigerating a steak at a later date is a good option if you want to store it for a couple of days.

In general, steak can last 3 to 5 days in the fridge. Keep in mind to properly seal the meat before refrigerating it, so no air will get in and oxidize the meat.

What Causes the Meat to Change Color?

We mentioned that the color change doesn’t always tell that the steak is bad.

However, it can play an important role to determine if the meat is fresh or not.

The red color in meat comes as a result of the protein in meat called myoglobin, which turns into oxymyoglobin and produces a vivid red color when in contact with oxygen.

However, not all red meats have the same color. The color can change depending on the animal’s diet, sex, age, etc.

When meat stays for a while exposed to air, the color will start to become darker but that doesn’t always mean that the meat is spoiled.

Can Bad Steak Make Your Sick?

When the steak has gone bad, different kind of bacteria is grown. While bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli are destroyed when the meat is cooked and has reached a 150°F internal temperature, several other bacteria are immune to heat and cold and will survive any freezing or cooking process, making the meat unsafe to eat.

As a result, you can become sick and even die if you eat a bad steak. 

How to Spot Bad or Spoiled Beef Video

About Kendrick

Kendrick is an outdoor cooking enthusiast, living in Kansas. He loves to share his passion about outdoor cooking with everyone on various Social Media platforms (Read More)

1 thought on “How to Tell if Steak is Bad – Tips to Spot Raw or Frozen Steak”

  1. My dad just bought a box of 30 “ribyes” for $30, all vacuum sealed & frozen, but had big half dollar sized brownish grey spots on half of them. The guy told him they were only 3-4 days old & frozen. Folks when you buy crap like this it’s almost always left in a ice chest or 60* portable freezer & is BAD before the days out. Usually these Jake legs buy $500 worth of meat with there EBT welfare card & sell it for $700 cash. It’s trash! The sickest I’ve ever been in 45 years was from eating meat “that after it’s cooked it’s totally good” bullshit.


Leave a Comment