Whether it's sizzling on a mesquite grill, or simmering in a pan of Swiss gravy, the classic beef steak lends a hearty, savory flavor to innumerable dishes. If your steak has spoiled, however, your latest dish may result in serious illness rather than cordial compliments. Identifying bad meat takes only a few moments, but it requires you to pay close attention and use almost all of your senses.
Take a good look at the steak, inspecting all parts of the meat thoroughly. Before you throw your steak on the grill or in the oven, notice its color. While beef steaks commonly turn a bit brown or darken slightly after a few days of refrigeration -- a result of the natural process of oxidation -- light gray, purplish or green-hued steaks are unfit for cooking. Likewise, a viscous coating or glossy sheen indicate rancid beef.
Run your finger -- thoroughly washed, of course -- over the steak. Feel for a glossy, filmy or slimy texture. Fresh meat is normally moist, but if your steak feels sticky, slimy or tacky, it's likely not safe to cook.
Smell the steak. Oftentimes, a smell test serves as the most reliable method for identifying bad meat. Rotten or sulfurous scents, fishy smells and yeast-like odors indicate bad meat. Trust your nose -- if your gut reaction is unpleasant, you likely have spoiled steak on your hands.
- Use expiration dates only as a general guideline. As the United States Department of Agriculture points out, there is “no uniform or universally accepted system used for food dating in the United States” -- “sell by,” “use by” and “best if used by” labels simply indicate potential quality, not necessarily safety. Keen senses are a more reliable indicator of edibility.
- Typically, beef steaks keep in the refrigerator for about 2 to 4 days if stored at temperatures between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If frozen at a temperature of 0 F, raw steak lasts for roughly 6 to 12 months.
- If you have doubts about the steak's edibility, always err on the side of safety.
- Avoid eating steaks that have been left out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour in temperatures warmer than 90 F. During this time, harmful bacteria may contaminate the meat.
- Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images