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Ground Beef Color and Safe Handling

The label on ground beef tells the fat content


Ground beef
Rob Melnychuk/Photodisc/Getty Images

Ground Beef Color - Red versus Gray-Purple Meat

The bright red color of ground beef is often used by consumers as a selection factor when purchasing hamburger, but a dark gray-purple color may not necessarily be a bad thing.

All warm-blooded animals contain a pigment called myoglobin in meat tissues. This pigment is normally a dark grayish-purple but when it comes in contact with oxygen, it becomes oxymyoglobin and reacts by turning a deep red color. Meats that are vacuum-packed have not been exposed to oxygen long enough to turn red.

It is for that eye-pleasing coloration that most fresh ground beef sold in clear packages at the market is packaged using a clear film that is oxygen permeable. The oxygen goes through the film and allows the meat to turn that pretty red color we associate with fresh beef. This is why it is not recommended to freeze meat in store packaging.

Coloring can also indicate spoilage. If your package of ground beef is grayish all the way through and does not turn red when exposed to air for fifteen minutes or so, it is most likely spoiled. Usually your nose will tell you right off the bat, as spoiled ground beef will smell sour. It will also feel tacky to the touch. Don't take any chances with spoiled meat. When in doubt, toss it out.

Safe Handling for Ground Beef Hamburger

Beef products are susceptible to bacterial contamination such as E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria. Proper handling and cooking procedures are essential to prevent foodborne illness. Other bacteria can contribute to excelerated spoilage. Ground beef is especially vulnerable since it begins with so many pieces of meat exposed to multiple handling procedures and equipment surfaces. Grinding exposes even more meat surface to potential bacteria.

Luckily, thorough cooking destroys bacteria. According to USDA guidelines, ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Use a meat thermometer to be sure. The USDA now requires safe handling and cooking guideline information be affixed to all raw beef sold in the USA.

Cleanliness when handling ground beef is of utmost importance. This includes not only your hands, but your utensils and working surfaces. Do not use the same utensils or containers for meat and vegetables. Using the same knife to cut vegetables can contaminate your previously-safe beef and vice versa. Cross-contamination is the most common culprit responsible for foodborne illness. All utensils should be washed thoroughly with soap and hot water before using on any other food.

More About Ground Beef and Hamburger Recipes:

Ground Beef Cooking Tips
Ground Beef Labels and Fat Content
Ground Beef Selection and Storage
What is in ground beef? FAQ
How to Grind Your Own Ground Beef
Ground Beef Coloration and Safe Handling
Ground Beef History
Ground Beef Recipes - Hamburger Recipes
Ground Beef - Beef Mince Photo © 2007 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.


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