If Meat Changes Color, Has It Gone Bad?

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

I don’t blame you if cooking meat makes you nervous. Whether it’s inexpensive ground beef or a dry-aged steak that you’re now truly invested in, you want to make sure you’ve picked out something fresh.

But what happens if the meat sat around in the fridge for a couple days, or was frozen and doesn’t look quite as vibrantly red anymore? Is it still safe to eat or should you throw it out?

What Causes Meat and Poultry to Change Color?

From red meat to poultry, here’s why meat can change color and what it means.

Red Meat

Appearance no doubt plays a big part in what we think of as fresh, and in the case of red meat, you probably equate a bright-red color with freshness. This color is a result of the protein in meat called myoglobin, which turns into oxymyoglobin and produces a vivid red color when it comes into contact with oxygen.

Not all red meats are the same color, though — color is influenced by factors like diet, sex, exercise, species, and especially age, which can produce darker-colored meat.

Prolonged exposure to air and light will also darken meat that starts out bright red, as you’ve probably seen when pre-formed hamburger patties start to turn gray, but are still red or pink inside. Color changes can also occur if raw meat is frozen, where it can fade or darken in color.


Raw poultry can sometimes have a bluish tone to the meat or bright-yellow skin, which might seem strange if you’re used to pink iridescent meat and whiter skin. As with red meat, the color variations result from differences in diet, breed, exercise, and age. Poultry can also change in color when frozen.

So Is It Safe to Eat?

The good news is, even if there’s a color change — which might not be as visually appetizing — the meat or poultry is still perfectly fine to eat if stored properly in the refrigerator or freezer and consumed within a safe period of time (up to two days for ground meat and five days for other cuts).

What you really want to watch out for even more so than color change, is meat or poultry that has a bad odor or is sticky, tacky, or slimy to the touch. Let your other senses be your guide in these instances.