How to Tell if Steak is Bad

Nothing feels better than the taste of your steak as it’s cooked to the desired doneness level. But first, you need to make sure that you’re not using bad or rotten steak. 

Yes, the freezing process can slow down the spoiling of your meat, but if you don’t store your steak well, it won’t be edible, or worse, you might get sick from eating spoiled steak. 

If you’re not sure how to tell if steak is bad, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll highlight the tell-tale signs that your steak has gone bad, why this happens, and the best tips to keep your steak ready for the next grilling event. So, let’s dive in. 

Signs of Bad Steak

Raw steaks can last between 3 and 5 days in the fridge, but the meat can last up to 12 months if you store it in the freezer. Dry-aged steak can typically last longer. It will remain usable if kept in the fridge for up to 30 days, but only six months without affecting the texture and the flavor. 

Yet, sometimes something can go wrong before or during the freezing process, so you end up with spoiled steak instead of a tasty one that is ready to be cooked according to your favorite cooking method. 

This is why you should be able to tell the difference between good and bad steak. Here are some signs that show that your steak is spoiled. 

The Use-By Date has Passed

The sell-by date determines when the store should sell the raw steak to give customers the chance to cook, marinate, or store it. Then you have to check the use-by date, which determines the date after which consuming the steak can be dangerous. 

You can keep raw steak for a few days in the fridge, but if you’ve already bought an old one at a discount, you need to cook it as soon as possible before it passes the expiration date and goes bad. However, if you buy the steak and immediately freeze it, then this delicious frozen steak can last a lot longer.

Bad Smell

Now, this can be a little confusing, especially if you’re not used to dealing with fresh steak. Good fresh steak doesn’t smell the best, but it doesn’t smell bad. It simply smells like meat. As a matter of fact, dry-aged steaks can actually smell a little bit stronger because of the lactic acid produced during the dry-aging process. 

Yet both smells don’t compare to the off-putting smell the spoiled steak releases. When the steak is bad, it releases an ammonia-like smell, which makes it impossible to eat and enjoy. 

If you’re not sure if this is the natural smell of steak or if your meat has gone bad, you should try to look for other signs before cooking the steak. With practice, you’d be able to tell if steak is bad or it just smells natural.

Slimy Appearance

If you notice a slimy film covering the steak, then this is a sign that you have spoiled or rotten steak. Fresh raw steak shouldn’t be shiny, and this slime is a sign that using it will probably lead to food poisoning. 

When you don’t throw this spoiled steak away, you’ll begin to notice colored spots covering the meat. These spots are mold spores, which indicate that you should immediately get rid of the meat because your steak has gone bad.

Dry and Flaky Texture

Bad raw steak is dry and lacks the tenderness and moisture of fresh steak. So, if you try to cut the steak after it goes bad, you’ll notice that it’s breaking and flaking as the bacteria break the proteins in the meat. You can tell if steak is bad when it looks more like a tuna steak. 

It’s recommended to check your steak after taking it out of the freezer to thaw, even if you can’t necessarily smell something odd. It has probably gone bad if it doesn’t release some juices and becomes tender to touch. It might still be good if it’s not past its expiration date and you’ve kept it in the freezer the whole time. However, you’ll probably end up with a dry steak that no one would touch. 

What Causes Steak to Go Bad?

You don’t want to eat steak every day, so storing it properly is the key. Unfortunately, a lot can go wrong while buying or storing steak, making it go bad. 

  1. You didn’t store or freeze your fresh meat properly. Keeping steak in vacuum-sealed bags, whether they’re kept in the fridge or the freezer, is recommended, as the lack of oxygen will decrease the likelihood of pathogenic bacteria infecting the meat. 
  2. The meat was left to thaw for too long at room temperature, so your steak is bad. 
  3. You used warm water to accelerate the process of thawing your frozen steak. 
  4. You left the meat exposed for too long. 

Can you Use Bad Steak?

No, when steak is bad, eating it will lead to food poisoning that might be fatal. However, among all the signs that tell that your steak is no longer edible, there’s only one that might be OK to ignore, depending on the status of your steak. 

It’s agreed that any sign of discoloration or change in the color of your steak means that you can’t eat this piece of meat. However, after being exposed to the air for a while, the myoglobin in the fresh raw steak changes from red to a slightly grayish color, especially on the surface. This process is natural and doesn’t mean that the meat has gone bad. This usually happens when frozen steak is kept in the freezer for too long. 

So, if the meat looks grayish, brownish, or slightly darker than the fresh red color, you might still enjoy your meat because this isn’t bad steak. Nevertheless, you should check for all the other signs to ensure that your cooked steak is safe. However, if you notice brown spots covering the meat, then you should discard the meat immediately. 

Tips to Ensure that Steak is Fresh and Safe

If you’re not planning to cook your steak right away, you can follow these tips to keep it fresh for as long as possible. 

  1. Always put the steak in the fridge or freezer if you don’t plan to cook it. Leaving it at room temperature for a few hours will encourage the growth of harmful bacteria. 
  2. Examine fresh meat more often, so you can tell if steak has gone bad.
  3. Avoid thawing and freezing your steak multiple times. It doesn’t cause the meat to go bad, but it affects its moisture, so the cooked steak won’t taste good. 
  4. When kept in the fridge, make sure that the temperature is below 40°F. 
  5. Store the steak in a tight plastic bag or vacuum-sealed bag. 
  6. If kept in the freezer, take the frozen meat out one or two days before your dinner and thaw it in the fridge to enjoy delicious steak.
  7. Cook your steak until the internal temperature is at least 120°F to kill natural-occurring bacteria. The internal temperature increases depending on the doneness level. 


Consuming bad steak is a sure way to end up with food poisoning. Although it might be hard to tell that steak has gone bad, there are several signs that you should look out for. Storing and handling steak properly will extend its life and allow you to enjoy it whenever you want.

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