6 Ways to Tell If a Steak Has Gone Bad

Knowing if your steak has gone bad is key to avoiding food poisoning. Storing steak in the fridge or freezer will slow spoilage but won’t stop it forever. It’s not always easy to tell just by looking at whether your steak is still good or not. So, if you’re unsure about your steak, here are six simple ways to check if it’s still good.

1. Check the Use-By Date

One of the easiest ways to tell if your steak is still good is to look at your steak’s use-by date. This might seem obvious, but it’s the easiest way to ensure your steak’s still good. And when you’re checking, look at the use-by date, not the sell-by date. 

So, what’s the difference between the two? The sell-by date is a heads-up for the store on when they should get that steak off the shelf. It gives us, the customers, enough time to still use the steak. The use-by date, however, that’s for us. If your steak says it’s good until December 11th, you’ll want to eat it or freeze it by then.

Speaking of freezing, toss the steak in the freezer if you realize you can’t cook it in time. Just slap a little note or label it with the date you froze it so you won’t forget how long it’s been chilling there.

Vacuum Packed porterhouse Steak
Vacuum Packed Steak – Freshness Sealed In

2. Do a Visual inspection

Just because your steak’s changed color doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone bad. What’s causing that change? That’s what really matters. Once you pull that steak out of the packaging, check for any particularly dark spots or patches. And if it’s turned an odd shade of brown, yellow, or even green, that’s a red flag.

When you first buy a steak, it’s usually got this deep purplish or burgundy color. Leave it out for 10-15 minutes, and it’ll turn a bright cherry red. But let it sit in your fridge for a few days? It’s going to start looking brown. Some folks might look at that and think, “Uh-oh, time to toss it.” But brown doesn’t always mean bad. Keep an eye out for other signs, too, like if it’s started to feel slimy or smells off.

An important point to remember: according to the USDA, you can store steak outside the fridge for a maximum of two hours. Just make sure the temperature stays between 40°F and 90°F . But if it goes above 90°F, the safe storage time drops to just one hour.

raw new york strip steak on white plate
A strip steak with a hint of brown, freshly unwrapped from its packaging after spending a day in the refrigerator.

Below is the same steak 24 hours later, after dry brining with salt.

Strip steak dry-brined with salt for 24 hours
Strip steak dry-brined with salt for 24 hours
raw strip steak closer look
Strip steak with a fresh red cherry hue.

3. Do a Touch Test

If a steak’s gone bad, it often feels kind of slimy. Touch it; you’ll likely find this slippery, sticky film on top. That slimy texture? It could mean your steak’s getting close to molding. Once mold shows up, it’s a clear sign the meat’s been hanging out with bacteria, and you shouldn’t eat it.

Visible mold growth on steak
Visible mold growth on steak

4. Do a Sniff Test

The best way to tell if a steak’s gone bad is to sniff it. A fresh steak and a spoiled one just don’t smell the same. I know raw steak doesn’t exactly smell like roses, but it shouldn’t make you want to turn away, either. If your nose scrunches up from a strong whiff of ammonia or perhaps sour eggs, it’s safe to say that steak’s past its prime.

Raw strip steak on plate.
Do a sniff test to determine if the steak is spoiled

Now, a little heads up about dry-aged steaks. They have a unique smell, kind of cheesy sometimes. That’s because of the lactic acid that comes out during the aging process. But don’t judge a dry-aged steak just by its smell. Look out for things like discoloration or a slimy feel to be sure.

5. Check How Long the Steak’s Been in the Fridge

Don’t let that steak sit in the fridge for too long. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) advises that raw steak stays fresh for about 3 to 5 days. And if it’s cooked? A bit less, around 3 to 4 days. After these timeframes, your steak might start to feel a bit slimy and smell off. It’s best to toss it in the trash at that point.

Raw strip steak in the refrigerator
Raw strip steak in the refrigerator

6. Check For Freezer Burn

Even if your steak chills in the freezer, it can still go off. Maybe you kept it too long or didn’t store it correctly. The usual suspect? Freezer burn. It’s what happens when the cold starts drawing all the juicy moisture from the steak. And while, technically, you can still eat a steak that’s suffered from freezer burn, the taste is usually so off-putting that most people opt out.

How do you know if your frozen steak’s gone bad? Watch out for that nasty freezer burn, any weird changes in how the meat feels, or if it smells funky after you’ve thawed it. And, hey, if the packaging’s leaky or there’s a ton of ice inside, that’s a red flag. Also, if you’re scratching your head trying to remember when you even put that steak in the freezer, it may be time to let it go.

What Does a Bad Steak Look Like?

Below is an example of how a steak goes bad when left at room temperature (60-75°F) and what the changes look like. Instead of that vibrant cherry red, you’d expect, it’s showing some shades of deep red, brown, and mold plains after being outside for 48 hours. Touch it; it might feel sticky—not how a good steak should feel. And the smell? It’s not something you’d easily forget. And trust me, when it smells that way, you instantly know the steak’s gone bad. No need for further investigation—your nose knows.

Raw steak left at 60-70°F for 48 hours

After 24 hours, it’s showing shades of deep red and a little bit of brown.

Raw steak left at 60-75°F for 24 hours
Raw steak left at 60-75°F for 24 hours
Raw steak left at 60-75°F for 4 hours
Raw steak left at 60-75°F for 4 hours
Strip steak, freshly unwrapped from its packaging
Steak, freshly unwrapped from its packaging

What Are the Risks of Eating Spoiled Steak?

Eating food that’s gone off isn’t just about the off-taste; it can make you sick. Bad steak, for instance, can land you with food poisoning. And if you’re wondering exactly how bad it can get, you should check out the article on food poisoning symptoms.

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Written by: Adam Wojtow

Adam Wojtow is a Polish entrepreneur and writer who founded Steak Revolution in 2020 because of his passion for steaks. Adam has been cooking steaks for over five years and knows a lot about them, including the different types of steak cuts, how long to cook them, and the best ways to cook any steak.

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