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Feb 7, 2008 03:45 PM

Why Did My Meat Lose its Color (and did it go bad?)

I bought some lovely-looking flank steak from Whole Foods this Tuesday and threw it in the fridge. Tonight (Thursday). I took it out to use it, and it was no longer a vibrant red, but instead a rather sickly gray color. There's a little odor, but I don't know if it's "meat" smell or if it means it went rotten. But my steak couldn't have gone bad in two days, could it?

Anyone know what gives?

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  1. This is the normal change in color. Freshly cut meat is pink-red due to the reaction of myoglobin with oxygen. It turns gray as myoglobin changes to metmyoglobin. Packaging (and exposure to carbon monoxide) enhances and prolongs the red color.


    1. so is it ok to use or not ? i have a similar dilemma with lamb shanks. hate to throw them away but i always thought if they turned color they were off.

      1 Reply
      1. re: foodwich

        Smell it. Oxygen and light break down the fats into rancid fragments. Unsaturated fats break down quicker than saturated fats so fish and chicken go bad quicker than red meats. Beef is relatively quite stable. Regardless of the color, if the meat smells neutral, it should be ok to eat. Even eating rancid meat won't make you sick as long as it's cooked to kill the bacteria which have multiplied on it - but it will taste bad.

        To keep the color from changing quickly and to make it last longer before turning rancid, seal the meat and keep light from hitting it. Vacuum sealers (Tilia Foodsaver) work very well - wrapping in aluminum foil first will block the light (although that is probably redundant if storing in a dark fridge). Or just wrap tightly in Saran wrap and then wrap again with foil.

      2. Wait, wait! Is the color change really all that bad? Oxidation happens (and not always to the point of rancidity), and we're only talking two days. (I'd prefer this to the CO treated items, frankly.)

        If you bought a flank steak on Tues, and are unsure of it on Thurs., there MAY be a problem, of course...but probably with the purveyor, which in this case is WF and who's usually aware of their meats. If you stored it properly, there should not be a problem, especially if you bought from a reputable source. Answer yourself this: do I smell the meat I buy and cook same day? Then answer: do I smell the meat I have had for two days? You'll know if it's a meat smell (which the first two answers should be); if the meat is off, you'll know. If it's off, take it back. A reputable source will not have a problem with it.


        3 Replies
          1. re: chowser

            It is bright red initially because they pump the packagng with CO. It will turn gray if you take it out of the vacuum wrapped packaging. Your nose is the best source. You may want to rinse it off first, to make sure you are smelling the meat andnot some residual packaging smell.

            1. re: ESNY

              The CO is relatively new, just the past couple of years. It makes the meat stay red for longer but maybe WF doesn't use it which is why the OPs turned color. Either way, I think educating the public that meat can change colors and still be good is better than adding CO to every package of meat.


        1. I bought raw diced beef from a halal shop.While cleaning I noticed some of the diced beef pieces are pink colored while others got its natural reddish brown color . I called the shop and asked why this is happened ? They informed me it is very clean and was in fridge.I soaked it in salt water for half an hour still the color was pink. While cooking also I noticed that the pink colored ones are getting whitish color and the others getting natural brown color. I had to consume it .Why the meat could not regain its color.?