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 Food Safety at Home. Im Kathy Bernard with the Food Safety and Inspection Service and Im your host for this segment.
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 color.
Hello Sandy, welcome to the show.
Thank you Kathy, Im glad to be here to help you with your questions about the color of ground beef. USDAs Meat and Poultry Hotline receives lots of questions on this topic.
First of all, what color should ground beef be? Ive seen it red and Ive seen some thats brownish.
The optimum color of fresh beef is actually cherry-red but that can change quickly. Several factors can affect raw ground beef color.
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 brownish-red.
So thats 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 ground beef.
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.
Its 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 ground beef?
Yes Kathy, freezing can darken or fade the color, but it doesn't affect the safety of the meat.
Ive 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.
Dont 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.
Its good to know thats 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 temperature?
Yes, ground beef can have a pink color inside, even after its 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, its 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 thermometer.
Thank you, Ive 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 Ask Karen at
Consumers may also call the toll-free USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline. Thats 1-888-674-6854.
Thats it for this week. Weve been talking to Sandy King from FSIS Food Safety Education Staff.
Thank you so much Sandy, for discussing ground beef color with me today.
Im Kathy Bernard and Id like to thank you for joining us for this episode of Food Safety at Home. And remember, Be Food Safe.
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 to
firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for tuning in.