My Ground Beef Turned Gray? Is It Bad?

What Gray Ground Beef Actually Means. Spoiler Alert- It’s probably fine!

Looks can be deceiving in the case of packaged ground beef.

When you think of meat, you think bloody red, right? I know I do or did until I went full-on Bill Nye the Science Guy about it. But to be honest it’s all one big misunderstanding that we even assume meat is supposed to be that appetizing dark red. There’s this thing called myoglobin, which is a pigment that turns the meat that Scarlett tone as it reacts to oxygen. That means if the meat is deprived of oxygen in packaging, it starts to turn that unsightly gray.

So meat that isn’t exposed to oxygen loses the redness? What’s tricky here is when it comes to packaging.  It would SOUND right to be like, “okay saran wrap and sealed, there’s no air getting in there!” But stores actually tend to package their meat to let just a little oxygen in to give beef a super bloody delicious aesthetic (since most people tend to think the redder the better.) But in reality, all that redness just means is it has been more exposed to a little dose of oxygen. This isn’t necessarily good or bad, but just isn’t the marker of freshness we have all been led to believe. It is actually said that the “freshest” meat appears purplish in its tone.

So say you buy that ground meat, but pack it vacuum-sealed or even store in the freezer. That meat will turn 50 Shades of Gray in no time and you’ll probably think it lost something whether that’s freshness, flavor, or sustenance. But what it actually means is just less oxygen is in there keeping that dead stuff ruby red, and that is totally fine when it comes to being edible (unless maybe you’re a vegan).

The only thing to remember is if you come to realize your entire slab of ground beef sitting in the fridge is greyish brown from the inside-out, something is in fact off and that means it has likely gone bad.

So you don’t have to worry (within reason) about the ground beef that sits in your fridge a few days after it’s bought waiting for burger night, even if it has slightly changed in hues. You can even show off to whoever is around and say some smartass thing like “See that, that’s the surface layer of the meat being deprived of oxygen.” Everyone loves a know-it-all, right?

At the end of the day when it comes to ground beef, redder isn’t always better. But, a hamburger a day won’t necessarily keep the doctor away.