|Script: Color of Ground
Welcome to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service Food Safety
at home podcast series. These podcasts were designed with
you in mind - the consumer - who purchases and prepares meat, poultry
and processed meat, egg products for your family and friends.
Each episode will bring you a different food safety topic ranging
from safe storage, handling, and preparation of meat, poultry and
processed egg products to the importance of keeping foods safe during
a power outage.
So sit back, turn up the volume and listen in.
Welcome to ďFood Safety at Home.Ē Iím Kathy Bernard with the
Food Safety and Inspection Service and Iím your host for this
With me today is Sandy King, technical information specialist
from the Food Safety Education Staff. Sandy and I will discuss
color differences in ground beef and factors that can affect
Hello Sandy, welcome to the show.
Thank you Kathy, Iím glad to be here to help you with your
questions about the color of ground beef. USDAís Meat and
Poultry Hotline receives lots of questions on this topic.
First of all, what color should ground beef be? Iíve seen it red
and Iíve seen some thatís brownish.
The optimum color of fresh beef is actually cherry-red but that
can change quickly. Several factors can affect raw ground beef
When meat is fresh and protected from exposure to the air, such
as in vacuum packages, it has the purple-red color that comes
from Myoglobin. Myoglobin is the protein responsible for the
majority of the red color. It doesn't circulate in the blood but
is fixed in the tissue cells and is purplish in color. When it
is mixed with oxygen, it becomes oxymyoglobin and produces a
bright red color. The remaining color comes from the hemoglobin
which occurs mainly in the circulating blood, but a small amount
can be found in the tissues after slaughter.
The use of a plastic wrap that allows oxygen to pass through
helps ensure the ground beef will retain the bright red color.
However, exposure to store lighting as well as the continued
contact of myoglobin and oxymyoglobin with oxygen leads to the
formation of metmyoglobin, a pigment that can make the meat
So thatís why some ground beef is darker in color?
Yes. When fresh meat is protected from oxygen in the air, it
will keep a purple-red color. When ground beef is exposed to
air, it will turn bright red.
Is that why pre-packaged ground beef can be red on the outside
and grayish brown on the inside?
Yes, some people actually call the Hotline wondering whether
their grocery store is wrapping fresh ground beef over older
The color on the surface of ground beef may be red, and the
interior of the meat may be gray or brown due to lack of oxygen
on the inside.
Itís important to note that differences in color do not mean the
product is unsafe to eat.
Sandy, I've noticed that ground beef gets darker after you
freeze it. Is freezing another factor that affects the color of
Yes Kathy, freezing can darken or fade the color, but it doesn't
affect the safety of the meat.
Iíve noticed white dry patches on my frozen meat many times.
What are they? Does that mean the meat is spoiled or unsafe?
No, the white patches are freezer burn. When
ground beef has been frozen for an extended period of
time, or has not been wrapped and sealed properly,
these patches can develop.
Donít worry, the product is safe to eat, but the areas
with freezer burn will be dried out and tasteless. You
can just trim it off and use the meat.
To avoid freezer burn, make sure the meat is wrapped
well and try to use it within four months. Overwrap
packages of meat for long-term storage using airtight
heavy-duty foil, plastic freezer wrap or paper, or
place the package inside a plastic freezer bag. You can
also use freezer containers to repackage and freeze
family packs into smaller amounts.
Itís good to know thatís just a quality issue. What can you tell
me about cooked ground beef that still looks pink? Can this
happen, even after the meat is cooked to a safe internal
Yes, ground beef can have a pink color inside, even after itís
safely cooked. The pink color can be due to a reaction between
the oven heat and the protein mentioned before, myoglobin. It
can also happen when vegetables containing nitrites are cooked
along with the meat. Because color is not an accurate indicator
of doneness and safety, itís very important to use a food
thermometer when cooking ground beef.
What is the safe internal temperature for cooking ground beef?
To be sure that you kill harmful bacteria, cook all ground beef
and products made with ground beef to an internal temperature of
one hundred sixty degrees Fahrenheit, measured with a food
Thank you, Iíve learned so much!
You can learn more about ground beef color and safety by
visiting the FSIS Web site at www.fsis.usda.gov, or visit us
online for assistance from our virtual representative ďAsk
KarenĒ at Ask Karen.gov.
Consumers may also call the toll-free USDA Meat & Poultry
Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline. Thatís 1-888-674-6854.
Thatís it for this week. Weíve been talking to Sandy King from
FSISí Food Safety Education Staff.
Thank you so much Sandy, for discussing ground beef color with
Iím Kathy Bernard and Iíd like to thank you for joining us for
this episode of ďFood Safety at Home.Ē And remember, ďBe Food
Well, that's all for this time. Thanks for joining us today
for another episode of food safety at home!
For answers to your food safety questions call USDA's toll-free
Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline. That's 1-888-674-6854.
You can also get answers to food safety questions online from our
virtual representative "Ask Karen" at
Let us know what you think of this podcast by sending your comments
firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for tuning in.
May 5, 2010