Looking forward to cooking a steak all day is almost as amazing as eating the steak itself. But what if you get home and start to question if it’s a bad steak? You need to know how to tell if a steak is bad, and you need to know fast.
The shelf life of a steak is limited. While it will keep longer than raw chicken or other poultry, it will also eventually spoil, no matter if the cut of meat is a prime vs. choice.
Eating spoiled steak is not a good idea unless you want to end up with an awful taste in your mouth, or worse, risk food poisoning and hospitalization.
Moms always used to say “When in doubt throw it out,” but when we are talking about an expensive cut of meat like steak, I’d like to be a little more precise than that before I throw it all in the trash.
Before dinner is ruined, use our handy guide to find out if your steak is bad or not.
❄️How Long Does Steak Last In The Fridge?
According to the USDA, raw steak will last 3-5 days in the refrigerator. This applies to all beef, lamb, and pork meat in any form, except ground.
Surprisingly, refrigerated cooked steak should be eaten within 3-4 days. That’s even less than raw steak’s longevity.
Besides temperature, the packaging is one of the most important factors that influence how long your raw steak stays safe to eat.
Ideally, the steak should be vacuum-sealed or at least tightly wrapped to limit the exposure to oxygen as much as possible.
For more information on the shelf life of raw steak and proper storage methods, read our how long is steak good in the fridge guide.
⚠️What Happens If You Eat Bad Steak?
Various types of bacteria thrive on meat, the most common ones being E.Coli, salmonella, and staphylococcus.
Don’t count on giving your steak a taste test! Some of these bacteria can lead to food poisoning even if you ingest them in small amounts.
If you experience gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, fever, or diarrhea you may have foodborne illness. Depending on the severity, it can last between a few hours and a few days.
🔎Does the Steak Look Good?
One of the best ways to tell if a steak is bad is to check it to make sure it looks good. That means you need to know how a good piece of steak looks. We created this handy chart for you to judge your steak.
|Type of Steak
|How a Good Steak Should Look
|Firm to the touch, red color, no slime or film, no discoloration, balanced moisture.
|Properly frozen, no frost-bite, not excessively brown or other any other colors — it should be a dark red.
|Firm to the touch, even brown coloring, no discoloration, no foul smell.
|Firm to the touch, no slime or film, dark red in color, no green or white streaks.
Steak goes bad when the bacteria start reproducing at a high rate. This can happen if it is left out on the counter, so put it in the refrigerator as soon as you get home from the butcher.
In addition, bacteria reproduce more quickly as the steak ages, which is why age is the best way to determine if a steak is bad or not.
If it has been in the refrigerator for more than a couple of days or is past the use-buy date even the slightest, be sure to check all of the following methods before cooking and eating that meat.
|This isn’t a fool-proof check, but is a clue.
|Minor browning is OK, but more severe discoloration is problematic
|If it is slimy, throw it out
|It has lost its moisture so the end results will not be good
|If it smells bad, throw it out
🥩How to Tell if a Raw Steak is Bad
Fresh steak should not have an unpleasant smell. It’s not exactly pleasant, but it also doesn’t stink.
If the red meat is still fresh, it should have a subtle metallic scent. To catch it, you’d need to get close to the meat.
The smell will be off-putting if your steak has gone bad. Amazing how our bodies were designed to warn us of unsafe foods!
Spoiled meat can smell sour, emit an ammonia scent, or smell like rotten eggs (sulfur). Your first instinct will be to pull back. Don’t ignore it.
As an exception, dry-aging will cause the steak to naturally release lactic acid, which smells a lot like cheese.
The scent of dry-aged steak is not the best indicator to determine its freshness. Check the signs below to figure out if your dry-aged steak is still safe to eat.
⭐Key Takeaway | Sour, rotten egg, or otherwise off-putting smell. Dry-aged steak has a unique cheese-like scent due to lactic acid and other signs should be considered to determine freshness.
Does your steak feel sticky or slimy to the touch? That’s not normal!
This surface film is loaded with dangerous bacteria, and it may not be visible. In most cases, it will be transparent or have a slight yellowish tint.
As with most other signs, it’s a good idea to look at the rest and see if others apply before concluding.
Also, check for mold. That one is a solid sign that it’s time to throw that steak in the trash.
⭐Key Takeaway | Sticky or slimy surface sometimes with a yellowish tint, or visible mold.
When you buy fresh steak, it can have different colors depending on its storage conditions.
Fresh red meat that was exposed to oxygen for a long time, like the one in the butcher’s display, will have a bright red color.
Vacuum-sealed steaks have had all the oxygen removed, so they’ll have a deep purple hue. Once you unseal them, the steaks will regain their color if you leave them uncovered for 30 minutes.
Myoglobin is the protein found in muscle that gives beef its cherry red color when exposed to oxygen.
Once myoglobin is fully oxidized, it becomes “metmyoglobin” which will turn your steak brown or grey. It can happen when freezing steak as well.
In the fridge, this happens after about 3 days, and raw beef can last up to 5. As a result, color alone is not enough to decide if your steak is still fresh.
Of course, if your steak has some pretty dark brown areas and there are other signs of spoilage, it’s probably not safe to eat.
In addition, any hint of green or grey should cause you to label the steak as bad. Don’t eat it. Beef that is purchased from a butcher or farmer may have different coloring.
⭐Key Takeaway | Fresh steak can be bright red from oxygen exposure, or deep purple in vacuum-sealed steaks that haven’t been opened. Brown and grey indicate oxidation. Dark brown, green, or grey areas, especially when accompanied by other spoilage indicators, mean the steak is likely spoiled.
It’s true, a dry exterior is not a definitive sign your steak is bad. However, it still needs to be taken into account.
If the meat is so dry that the marbling of fat is raised significantly or the meat is grainy from lack of moisture, it has probably passed its useable state.
The texture of the cooked steak won’t be as good if it’s dry. The well-marbled cuts may turn out tender enough, but leaner parts are not so forgiving.
To prevent this from happening to your steaks when freezing, use vacuum-sealed bags. They don’t just limit exposure to oxygen and bacteria, they also keep the moisture locked in.
If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can wrap the steaks tightly in clingfilm, place them in freezer bags, and manually push the air out before sealing them.
⭐Key Takeaway | Dryness in steak, particularly when marbling is pronounced or the meat feels grainy, suggests it’s beyond its best use. While dryness alone doesn’t confirm spoilage, the cooked steak won’t have the ideal taste and texture.
While the sell-by date should be the first thing you check, meat can usually be used for two to three days after the sell-by date depending on how cold the meat has been kept and what kind of meat it is.
It’s a good idea to refrigerate your steak in its original packaging unless it’s damaged in some way. It will also have the use-by date written on it.
If you’re wrapping the meat yourself, label it! You’ll know exactly when it’s no longer safe to eat.
⭐Key Takeaway | Discard if the meat was refrigerated longer than 2-3 days after the sell-by date or if there are other indicators that it has gone bad.
🧊How to Tell if a Frozen Steak is Bad
Once a steak is frozen, you can’t use the sell-by date as your standard for whether or not the steak is bad. As long as it was frozen before the sell-by date, it’s a non-issue.
You also cannot really smell frozen meat, and there is no way to check the texture or moisture content because both are changed by the freezing process. So exactly how will you know if your frozen steak is bad? It comes down to two things.
The frozen steak will always be darker and more brown than its fresh raw counterpart. It will continue to darken as it ages, but you do not want to cook meat from frozen if it has become a dark brown or has any hint of green or grey coloring.
⭐Key Takeaway | Frozen steak gets a brown hue compared to fresh but discard if you see any dark brown, green, or grey areas.
If a steak has been improperly sealed in your freezer, it may develop frostbite, which is usually visible on the surface of the meat as speckled white meat or actual frost on the meat.
One other way to check your frozen steak is to go ahead and thaw it in the refrigerator in a sealed container. After a few hours, you should be able to open the package and check it for smell or sliminess.
⭐Key Takeaway | Freezer burn shows as speckled white meat, actual frost on the meat, or grayish-brown leathery spots. It significantly affects the taste and texture of the cooked steak and can be prevented with proper packaging.
🔥How to Tell if a Cooked Steak is Bad
Once steak has been cooked, it should be eaten or frozen within a couple of days. If you aren’t sure when the meat was cooked you can use these parameters.
Meat should be brown with no hints of filmy grey, white, or green colors on the surface.
Do you suspect the steak was bad before cooking it? If so, the inside of the steak can appear grey or brownish, even if it was cooked rare or medium-rare, unlike the pink hues of a steak that was cooked fresh.
⭐Key Takeaway | Look for an even brown coloring on the surface. Discard the steak if the inside looks grey or brownish.
When cooked steak spoils the outside can become tough, rubbery, or overly dry. Of course, this can also be a sign of overcooked steak so look at the other spoilage indicators, while also considering how you cooked the steak before deciding if it’s still safe to eat or not.
⭐Key Takeaway | A steak that’s tough, rubbery, or dry on the outside might be spoiled. Check the other signs to make sure.
The chilled steak should smell appetizing or have no smell. Cold steak doesn’t have a strong smell, but when you put it to your nose it should not smell unappetizing. That’s always a bad sign.
Sometimes you can’t detect the bad smell until the steak is reheated, and if that happens you should discard the meat.
⭐Key Takeaway | If the cooked steak smells offputting before or after reheating, that’s a sure sign it has gone bad.
💧How To Tell if A Thawed Steak Is Bad
Once frozen meat has been thawed, you can use many of the same parameters you would use to judge a raw steak, with a few exceptions.
👉You can’t use the sell-by date on thawed meat, because as long as it was frozen within two days of purchase it is perfectly fine.
👉You also won’t be able to tell as much from the texture of the meat because the texture changes as the meat freezes.
👉Finally, frozen meat darkens and it will not ever return to the color of the meat at purchase.
Thawed steak should not have an unpleasant smell. Once you smell bad steak, it’s not a smell you will forget.
The smell of thawed steak should be similar to that of a raw, fresh steak – a very subtle, metallic scent, and you’ll need to get very close to detect it. Any uninviting smell is a sure sign the steak is not safe to eat anymore.
⭐Key Takeaway | Any smell that makes you pull away is a good indicator your steak has gone bad.
If the meat is so dry that the marbling of fat is raised significantly or the meat is grainy from lack of moisture, it has probably passed its useable state.
⭐Key Takeaway | An overly dry exterior with raised fat marbling means the steak is no longer safe to eat.
After the frozen meat has been thawed, look for signs of frostbite. The dreaded freezer burn lessens the quality of foods. If present it will appear as grayish-brown leathery spots on the steak.
It’s worth noting, freezer burn is not a sign of spoilage due to bacteria. However, it does affect the steak’s texture and flavor. Sometimes you might be able to simply remove a small affected area and enjoy the rest of the steak.
⭐Key Takeaway | Frostbite is not caused by bacterial activity but lessens the quality of the steak.
How to Keep a Steak from Going Bad
✔️Refrigerate As Soon As Possible | The best way to prevent a steak from going bad is to keep it in the refrigerator and use it within 1-2 days of purchase or freeze it while it’s fresh for long-term storage.
✔️Check For Signs Of Spoilage After Purchase | It is possible to bring steak home from the grocery store and realize it was bad when you bought it, so you should always check the smell and appearance when you remove it from the packaging.
✔️Use Better Packaging | In addition to refrigeration, you can also repackage the meat in an airtight or vacuum-sealed container and it will stay fresh longer. Finally, if you cannot use it on time, be sure to move it to the freezer.
🍱How To Store Steak In The Fridge
👉Refrigerating steak in its original packaging is okay as long as it’s still intact. If not, vacuum seal it, or wrap it in clingfilm and place it in an airtight container or a heavy-duty freezer bag.
👉Don’t forget to label it with the date so you know how long it will stay safe to eat.
👉When bought fresh, and packaged correctly steak can stay in the fridge between 3-5 days.
❄️How To Store Steak In The Freezer
Freeze the steak if you know you won’t eat it before its expiration date.
Theoretically, properly frozen steak is safe to eat indefinitely. Over long-term storage, texture and flavor changes can occur even if the meat is not spoiled.
USDA says frozen steak can be kept in the freezer between 4 and 12 months. I would recommend eating it within those first 4 months to enjoy it at its best.
👉The best way to store steak in the freezer is to vacuum-seal it and then place it in a freezer bag. This double layer of protection will prevent freezer burn and oxidation.
👉No vacuum sealer? Leave it in its original packaging or wrap it in plastic wrap or aluminum foil then place it in a freezer bag and push as much air out as possible before sealing it tightly.
👉Labeling your freezer bags is important and worth the effort. You’ll know exactly the “use-by” date for each item which is a great way to prevent waste!
Rotten steak can develop a cheesy, ammonia, or sulfur (rotten eggs) odor from bacteria overgrowth. The best way to tell if a steak is bad is by the smell. The scent of a bad steak can vary but it will always be uninviting.
It’s not exactly a pleasant smell, but it shouldn’t be significantly unpleasant either. It usually has a subtle metallic undertone. I suggest training your nose. Each time you purchase raw steak from the grocery store, smell it carefully and memorize that smell. This will allow you to quickly detect any off-putting odors when you have bad steak.
Firm, bright, red, and clean. No films, graininess, or strange colors.
This varies depending on the level of spoilage but could include a slimy or grainy film, green, grey, or yellow coloring, and visible dryness.
Yes. The bacteria in spoiled meat can definitely make you sick. Food poisoning can result in severe discomfort or even hospitalization. It is not a chance you want to take.
Fresh raw steak comes in many different colors but is generally red and turns more brown as it ages. This is because the blood in the meat is exposed to oxygen over time.
Once you know your steak is still good, here are some of our favorite steak recipes you can try!
- Grilled Ribeye Cap Steak
- Grilled Ranch Steak
- Grilled Skirt Steak
- Grilled Teres Major Steak
- Grilled Marinated Steak Tips
- Grilled Porterhouse Steak With Herb Butter
- Grilled Greek Steak Bites
- Grilled Tex Mex Flank Steak With Avocado Corn Salsa
- Grilled Sirloin Steak With Chimichurri
- Herb Butter Grilled Ribeye Steak
- Grilled T Bone Steak With Bourbon Salt
- Grilled Herb Crusted Flat Iron Steaks
- Perfect Tomahawak Steak
Steak Recipes to Try
Ginny Collins is a passionate foodie and recipe creator of Savor and Savvy and Kitchenlaughter. Indoors she focuses on easy, quick recipes for busy families and kitchen basics. Outdoors, she focuses on backyard grilling and smoking to bring family and friends together. She is a lifelong learner who is always taking cooking classes on her travels overseas and stateside. Her work has been featured on MSN, Parade, Fox News, Yahoo, Cosmopolitan, Elle, and many local news outlets. She lives in Florida where you will find her outside on the water in her kayak, riding her bike on trails, and planning her next overseas adventure.