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How To Tell If Steak Is Bad Or Spoiled (5 Signs It’s Not Safe To Eat)

Written by Mike Futia | Updated August 13, 2023

Here's how to tell if your steak is bad:

  • Smell. Spoiled steak will smell funny—a sour, pungent, foul odor.
  • Color. Spoiled steak will look gray or brown.
  • Texture. Spoiled steak will feel slimy in your hand. This slimy texture is a tell-tale sign of rotten meat.

Do you have a feeling that your steak has gone bad?

If you don't store your steak correctly—or you store it for too long—it will go bad.

Here are all the signs of spoiled steak.

bad steak

A steak that's been sitting in the fridge for six days.

#1. It Smells Bad

Bad steak smells bad: pungent, sour, almost like ammonia.

If your steak smells bad, then trust your nose: it's probably not safe to eat. Harmful bacteria may have begun to colonize, and they can lead to an upset stomach or worse.

That said, be careful here if you're talking about dry-aged steak. The dry-aging process can cause a perfectly good steak to smell off due to the lactic acid that's released as it's dry-aging.

#2. Textural Changes

Spoiled steak will feel slimy or sticky when you touch it, indicating the presence of bacteria in the meat. It may also feel excessively wet to the touch.

A good steak, on the other hand, should feel firm but tender to the touch. So when you press your finger on it, the steak "bounces back" quickly.

#3. Discoloration

If your steak is bad, you may notice it has discoloration.

A fresh steak, or fresh red meat, has a vibrant red or pinkish color. But with a bad steak, you may notice small patches of brown, yellow, or green, and it will look shinier than usual.

Spoiled steak will get this discoloration for a few days, before it begins to mold.

#4. Mold

If your steak has mold, then it's a slam dunk that it's gone bad and you shouldn't eat the spoiled meat.

Telltale signs of mold include fuzzy spots on the surface of steak, in different colors (white, green, or black).

#5. It's Past The Use-By Date

sell by

Whole Foods adds "Packed On" and "Sell By" dates to their meats.

Checking the different "best by dates" on your steak can be another decent indicator in determining if it's bad or not.

Sell-By Date

The sell-by date is the last day the grocery store should put the steak out for sale. This doesn't mean your steak is bad after this date has passed, but it's a good indicator of freshness.

Generally, it's still safe to eat a steak that's 3-5 days past the sell-by date. Though with each day that passes, the quality of the meat may decline as it's less fresh.

Packed-On Date

Some butchers, like at Whole Foods, have a packed-on date they print on their labels. The packed-on date is the date the steak was packaged. 

The packed-on date is not an expiration date, but you can use it as guidance for how long you should keep the steak in your refrigerator. You should either cook or freeze your steak within 3-5 days of the packed-on date.

Use-By Date

If your steak is past the "used-by date"—and you haven't frozen it—then it may no longer be good to eat. The use-by date is the last date the steak will be at its peak quality.

While the use-by date is helpful, it's not a guarantee that your steak will be bad.

Expiration Date

You probably won't see an expiration date on a steak, but if you do, they indicate the last day you should eat the steak.

Of course, if you're going to freeze your steak before these dates pass, then you don't really have to worry about them.

Storage and Handling

After you've bought your steak, how should you store it?

Let's look at storing steak in your refrigerator, freezer, and at room temperature.


steak in fridge

Storing steak in my fridge to dry-brine it

You can store steak in the refrigerator for 3-4 days before it starts to spoil. Keep your refrigerator between 34°F and 40°F.

Unless you're dry-brining the steak overnight, you should keep the steak either in its original packaging, or in a sealed plastic bag, to maintain optimal freshness. (Exposing the meat to oxygen can make the steak spoil faster). You can also place the steak (in its bag) on a plate, to prevent any juices from leaking out and contaminating other foods.

If you're really trying to make your steak last another day or two longer in the fridge, you can try vacuum-sealing it to minimize air exposure.


If you want to store your steak longer, the freezer is your best option. Frozen meat can keep for a long time, and still taste good.

To freeze your steak, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap first, and then place it in a Ziploc bag to eliminate as much air as possible. This step helps prevent freezer burn and will help keep your steak good for up to 12 months.

I like to label and date the Ziploc bag so I know exactly when I placed it in the freezer.

Before cooking meat, you'll need to thaw it out first. The best method for thawing frozen steak is to place it in your refrigerator for 24 hours.

Room Temperature

It's fine to leave your steak out at room temperature right before you're going to cook it. This allows the steak to come to room temperature, which may result in a more evenly cooked steak.

That said, it's risky to leave steak out at room temperature for too long (1-2 hours), as there's a risk of bacterial growth (and the steak going bad).

This is especially true when the meat is between 40F degrees and 140F degrees, which as known as the "danger zone" for bacterial growth.

Risks and Precautions

You definitely don't want to eat bad steak. Here's why.

Food Poisoning

What's the risk of eating spoiled steak?

Food poisoning, to start. When bacteria grow on a steak, it can produce toxins that can lead to stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and other unpleasant issues. That's why if you think that your steak is past its prime, it's best to avoid eating it.

Dry-Aged vs. Spoiled Steak

Let's talk about dry-aged steak now, which can also look discolored and can be hard to differentiate between steak that is truly bad.

So, how do you know if your steak is dry-aged or if it's spoiled?

Here's how you can tell the difference:

Color: Dry-aged steaks are darker than fresh ones because they lose water as they age. Spoiled steaks also look darker but might have a weird gray or brown shade to them.

Smell: Dry-aged steaks smell a bit like nuts or earth, which is good. Bad steaks smell sour, really strong, or even like cleaning products.

Look: Dry-aged steaks look dried out and a bit wrinkly. Spoiled steaks can feel slimy or sticky.


Is It Okay To Eat Steak That Has Turned Brown?

No, it is not okay to eat steak that has turned brown. Steak turns brown during the process of oxidation, or when the steak has been exposed to oxygen. This oxygen causes the meat to lose its flavor and texture, and can lead to bacteria growth.

What Is Steak Supposed To Smell Like?

Good, fresh steak has a slightly sweet and metallic smell. Bad steak, on the other hand, has a much stronger and pungent, foul odor.

How Long Does Steak Last In The Fridge?

Most steak can last in the fridge for 3-5 days. That said, this is only a guideline. Use your senses and these tips on how to tell if steak is bad to determine whether your steak is still good or not.

Mike Futia

Hello, I'm Mike Futia, a passionate griller and BBQ enthusiast. I'm the creator of Grill Frenzy, and I'm committed to sharing my knowledge of grilling and smoking with you. I believe that BBQ and grilling should be accessible to everyone. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, I'm here to guide you on your grilling journey. Welcome!


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