Are You Worried That Your Ground Beef Turned Brown? (It’s Actually Natural)

The next time you notice that recently purchased ground beef turned brown…

Don’t worry!

When ground beef changes color, it does not necessarily mean it has gone bad.

Ground beef turning brown is a normal reaction involving myoglobin and oxygen.

And the hamburger is usually still good to eat.

In this post…

We are going to learn why ground beef turns brown.

And how quickly it can happen in the fridge or freezer.

We even have a video to explain how the process works.

Let’s take a closer look.

Fresh Ground Beef Bright Red

My Ground Beef is Turning Brown

When you reach in the refrigerator or freezer to pull out a package of hamburger…

You may be wondering… if ground beef is brown, does that mean it has gone bad?

That’s largely because.

At your local meat market or quality grocer…

Fresh ground beef typically appears a robust red color in display cases.


After storing ground beef in your refrigerator or freezer for short period, it changes color.

Ground beef turning brown sometimes worries people enough they end up wasting otherwise good hamburger.

They might throw away packages of hamburger simply because the color changed.

In the interest of saving families money.

We’ll answer the question – is ground beef OK if it turns brown?

Frozen Ground Beef Turned Brown

Why Does Ground Beef Turn Brown?

Before thick cuts of beef are ground into hamburger, they possess a purple-red hue toward the center.

But when butchers slice into fresh cut beef and grind it into hamburger, oxygen comes in contact with a naturally occurring protein called myoglobin.

This interaction changes the purplish beef to a temporary cherry-red that consumers find appealing.

After the hamburger — or any cut of beef — is packaged, packaging materials reduce the amount of oxygen making contact with the myoglobin.

This results in ground beef turning brown.

Of course, technical explanations about why your hamburger is no longer red don’t necessarily satisfy everyone’s concerns.

What we’re often wondering is why the ground beef turned brown after being properly refrigerated.

…and primarily is the hamburger safe to serve loved ones?

Because of the natural process that occurs between oxygen and myoglobin, the answer is usually a resounding YES!

Watch this video to see how ground beef can turn brown within a just a few hours through a perfectly natural process.

Why Does Ground Beef Turn Brown in the Fridge?

If you were to take an unpackaged pound of hamburger and leave it in the refrigerator for a few hours, it would remain red on the outside due to its exposure to oxygen.

But the center would start to brown due to a lack of oxygen.

When you take that same portion, wrap it and place it in your refrigerator, it would start to turn brown on the outside as well.

The point is that the science involving oxygen and myoglobin doesn’t change under common temperature shifts.

Like other perishable items, hamburger stays fresh longer in a fridge than on a warm countertop.

But unlike most others, its color composition changes when sealed.

Meat Market Ground Beef

Why Does Ground Beef Turn Brown in the Freezer?

At Wild Country Meats, we provide consumers who buy a half cow, whole cow and other large meat bundle with frozen vaccum sealed ground beef.

We don’t treat our packaging with additives to artificially maintain color.

Some people are surprised to see that their ground beef turned brown in the freezer.

Conventional wisdom surrounding freezers is that perishables will have their freshness locked in the moment the item is frozen solid.

That holds true of hamburger as well, to some degree.

The key difference between beef and other items in your freezer trails back to the relationship between myoglobin and oxygen.

Even when frozen, shades of brown appear on ground beef due to the lack of oxygen in a vaccum sealed package.

And that’s ok.

If the hamburger has stayed consistently frozen, you have nothing to worry about.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirms that frozen beef products remain safe to eat indefinitely.

Ground beef turning brown is not an exception, as long as it was safe to eat before freezing.

With that said, thick cuts of beef are best used within 12 months and uncooked hamburger within four months.

Freezing will keep the items consumable because bacteria cannot spoil foods at sub-freezing temperatures.

Ground Beef Turning Brown

How to Tell if Ground Beef Has Turned Bad

While the natural process that causes ground beef to change color leaves beef perfectly safe to eat in most cases.

There are times to use caution when you see discolored beef.

As discussed, beef starts purple inside, transitions to red, and winds up brown when starved of oxygen.

So, ground beef turning brown is not an indicator of whether it’s good to eat or not.

However, these ARE some telltale signs that the hamburger may be past its prime:

  • Appearance: Some hamburger that has not been properly packaged, refrigerated, or has expired begins to take on a dull grayish color when it starts to decline. If the hamburger looks gray or shows blue or green spots, throw it away.
  • Texture: When hamburger starts to spoil, it accumulates a slimy or sticky texture. If you handle beef that possesses a film, it’s not worth the risk of cooking and serving it. Wash your hands and move on to a fresh package of hamburger.
  • Smell: Meats typically take on a funky odor when they turn bad. This sign is usually the last of the three indicators. That means you should definitely dispose of the ground beef.

It’s also crucial to take note of the packaging dates on hamburger.

It’s not uncommon for chain supermarkets to leave ground beef out beyond its sell-by date and put items on sale that are borderline.

Keep in mind that if ground beef turns brown, that’s a perfectly normal process that happens to ground beef during storage.

But if it does not pass the other appearance, texture, or smell tests, it is better to be safe than sorry.

From Wild Country Meats, we hope this explanation about ground beef turning brown proves useful.

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