Ground beef is safe to eat if it’s still pink even after cooking. BUT, only if it has been cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F which is able to destroy the harmful bacteria. Color change in food especially meat is not always an indicator of doneness.
When cooking ground beef, regardless of the cooking method you are using, it’s always good to have this in mind:
- First, ground meat can remain pink even after being cooked to safe temperature making it free from any harmful bacteria.
- Second, meat can turn brown within the first few minutes of cooking (premature browning)making you think that it is safe to eat yet it has not reached the safe temperature.
It is therefore recommended that you use a thermometer to ensure that the meat has reached the internal temperature of at least (160°F) to destroy any harmful bacteria present making it safe for consumption.
Why is ground beef still pink even after reaching 160°F?
The color of cooked ground beef is mostly associated with its PH and the level of pigment. Beef contains a pigment in its muscle called myoglobin which gives it its color, therefore, the higher the level of the pigment the redder the meat.
The pH of ground beef vary from 5.3-6.2 with the normal PH ranging from 5.3-5.7 and the highest with a PH of 6.2.
According to Wiley Online Library Journal of Food Science/Volume 54, Issue 1, ground beef that remains pink after cooking to an internal temperature of 160°F is the one with the highest pH and concentration of pigment.
Ground beef is highly perishable compared to whole cuts as the bacteria on the surface of the whole cuts get mixed throughout the meat during the grinding process.
You should, therefore, be keen when handling ground meat from shopping throughout storage to cooking to prevent the risk of foodborne diseases.
Always have this in mind when handling ground meat:
- Never leave ground meat at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Be careful to label ground meat meant for freezing to avoid over storage since stubborn bacteria like E.coli survive the temperatures both in the fridge and the freezer.
- Seal tightly any raw meat going into the fridge or the freezer to avoid cross-contamination.
- Wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces that come into contact with raw meat to avoid cross-contamination.
- Defrost ground meat either in the fridge, cold water or microwave and cook immediately to prevent growth of bacteria.
- Never refreeze thawed ground meat unless you cook it first.
- Cook ground beef to an internal temperature of 160°F
For best storage results, always go for fresh ground beef. Fresh ground beef will have a bright red color on the surface due to oxygen exposure and appear brown in the inside.
Cook ground meat immediately you bring it home from the butchery to prevent growth of harmful bacteria. If you don’t plan to cook it sooner you can refrigerate or freeze to retain its quality and use within the time indicated on the table below.
|Fridge||Raw: 1-2 days|
Cooked: 3-4 days
|Freezer||Raw: 3-4 months|
Cooked: 4 months
Best ways to thaw ground beef
Ground meat can also harbor harmful bacteria during the thawing process especially if left to defrost at room temperature.
Safely defrost ground beef using these 3 methods:
Transfer ground meat in the fridge 2 days before you plan to cook it for it thaw completely.
- With the freezer bag still on, place it in a bowl to catch the juice that may leak during the process.
- Put it in the fridge.
Submerged in cold water
- Put the package of ground beef in a leak-proof plastic bag.
- Place it in a bowl
- Cover it with cold water and place it on the kitchen counter
- Change the water after every 30 minutes
Never thaw ground beef in hot or warm water as the heat on the surface of the meat promote bacteria growth.
In the microwave
For a more rapid way simply use a microwave.
- Remove the ground beef from the freezer bag.
- Place it in a microwave-safe glass dish and cover to prevent spillage
- Put it in the microwave and start to defrost.
- Check after every minute and turn the meat if necessary to make sure it defrosts evenly.
How to tell if ground beef is bad
It’s important to know the signs of spoiling ground meat to prevent food poisoning. By simply looking at it, smelling and using your fingers to touch and feel the texture it’s easy to tell if your ground beef has gone bad.
Traits of spoiled ground beef:
- It will turn from its original red or brown color to gray.
- When you touch, it will feel slimy.
- It will have an off smell usually sour. An indication of rotting.
Practicing proper food hygiene and thoroughly cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of 160°F are the only ways to get rid of the harmful bacteria that breed in raw meat.
- Wiley Online Library Journal of Food Science/Volume 54, Issue 1: Effect of pH and Total Pigment Concentration on the Internal Color of Cooked Ground Beef Partie