What Happens If You Eat Bad Ground Beef?

Ground beef is a kitchen staple for many, used to make burgers, meatballs, tacos, and more. However, like all meats, ground beef can spoil and harbor dangerous bacteria if not handled properly. Eating bad ground beef can cause food poisoning and make you sick. Here’s what you need to know about the risks and how to avoid them.

How Can You Tell If Ground Beef Has Gone Bad?

Fresh ground beef should have a bright red color on the exterior, with a purplish red or brownish grey interior. Bad ground beef will turn brown or grey throughout. The texture should be firm but easily broken apart. If the meat feels slimy or sticky, that’s a sign it has spoiled. Most importantly, spoiled ground beef will have a strong, putrid smell, versus the mild iron-like scent of fresh meat. Always check the sell-by and expiration dates as well. Ground beef can be safely eaten 1-2 days after the sell-by date if refrigerated, but it’s best not to eat it past the expiration date.

When in doubt, remember the old adage “When in doubt, throw it out!” It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to spoiled meat.

What Happens If You Eat Spoiled Ground Beef?

Eating bad ground beef can give you food poisoning, causing symptoms like:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea, possibly bloody
  • Fever

These symptoms may take a few hours to a few days to develop after eating contaminated meat.

The culprits are usually pathogenic bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, listeria, or campylobacter. These bacteria multiply rapidly in ground beef left at room temperature for too long. While thorough cooking should kill the germs, it’s still not worth taking a chance with meat that’s clearly gone bad.

In rare cases, the toxins produced by these bacteria can cause more severe illness. For example, a type of E. coli known as O157:H7 can lead to kidney failure, bloody diarrhea, and other dangerous complications. Listeria infection during pregnancy may result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or illness in the newborn baby.

How to Safely Handle Ground Beef

You can avoid most risks by handling ground beef properly:

  • Refrigerate or freeze ground beef within 2 hours of purchasing.
  • Check sell-by and expiration dates.
  • Store ground beef on the bottom shelf of the fridge to prevent leaks.
  • Defrost frozen ground beef in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
  • Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces after handling raw meat.
  • Cook ground beef to an internal temperature of at least 160°F. Use a meat thermometer to verify doneness.
  • Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours and eat within 3-4 days.

Following basic food safety guidelines like these can help protect you from foodborne illness when working with ground beef.

What to Do If You Eat Bad Ground Beef

If you accidentally eat spoiled ground beef, monitor yourself closely for any symptoms of food poisoning in the following hours and days. Be especially diligent if you are in a high risk group such as pregnant women, young children, older adults, or those with weakened immune systems.

Signs of severe infection require prompt medical care. See a doctor right away if you develop:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down
  • High fever
  • Signs of dehydration like excessive thirst, dry mouth, little to no urination
  • Neurological symptoms like numbness, blurred vision, or confusion

For most cases of food poisoning, treatment focuses on preventing dehydration by drinking fluids like diluted fruit juice, oral rehydration solutions, or broth. Over-the-counter anti-nausea medication can provide relief as well.

Contact your doctor if symptoms don’t improve within 1-2 days. Food poisoning usually resolves on its own within a week. Seek immediate help for bloody diarrhea, high fever, bloated abdomen, confusion, or other concerning symptoms, as these may indicate a more serious illness.

How to Prevent Eating Bad Ground Beef

Following a few simple precautions when buying, storing, and cooking ground beef can help avoid foodborne illness:

  • Inspect Packages: Choose cold, tightly sealed packages without leaks or damage. Check color and expiration dates.

  • Refrigerate Promptly: Refrigerate or freeze within 2 hours of purchasing. Store at 40°F or below.

  • Practice Proper Thawing: Thaw frozen ground beef in the fridge, never at room temperature.

  • Cook Thoroughly: Use a food thermometer to verify ground beef reaches 160°F. Higher temperatures are needed to destroy harmful bacteria.

  • Wash Hands and Surfaces: Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces after handling raw meat to avoid cross-contamination.

  • Refrigerate Leftovers: Store cooked ground beef in the fridge within 2 hours and eat within 3-4 days.

Following safe handling and cooking instructions will help keep ground beef from spoiling prematurely. If you notice signs of spoilage or just aren’t sure about that package in the back of the fridge, don’t risk eating it. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sick when dealing with meat and poultry products.

The Bottom Line

Eating spoiled ground beef can cause foodborne illness, with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. In some cases it may lead to severe complications. To avoid getting sick, inspect all packages, store ground beef properly, cook thoroughly, and follow other food safety guidelines. If you do eat bad ground beef by accident, watch closely for any signs of food poisoning in the following days. Seek medical care if you develop bloody diarrhea, excessive vomiting, high fever, neurological changes, or other serious symptoms. By taking simple precautions when buying, storing, and cooking ground beef, you can avoid the risks associated with consuming spoiled meat.

Here’s How To Tell If Ground Beef Has Gone Bad

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