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How To Tell if Corned Beef is Bad [Definitive Guide]

Corned beef is a very tasty and nutritious food that can be used in many different recipes.

However, since it is a meat, it’s important to know when it’s going off. This article will go through all the signs that corned beef is bad and other common questions surrounding its spoiling.

How to Tell if Corned Beef is Bad

When food goes off, bacteria and fungi starts to grow, which can make you sick. Harmful bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus rapidly grow in beef that has spoiled (1, 2, 3).

These bacteria cause food poisoning and even death in some cases.

When meat goes off it takes on a different smell, taste, color, and texture because of bacteria and fungi that start to grow. These pathogens cause changes in the meat due to their metabolic activities and they will also release gases, which explains any strange smells you may notice.

You need to be aware and check that nothing has changed with your corned beef. It is always better to err on the side of caution and rather throw out corned beef that appears spoiled, to avoid becoming ill.

Smell

Fresh and unspoiled corned beef should only have a mild smell, especially if spices have been added.

However, if the beef starts to smell sour and just plain horrible it is best to discard it. In some cases, you may notice a rotting odor or the odor may be that of rotten eggs.

The rotten eggs smell is because of gases that are produced by bacteria growing in the meat and is not due to any spices that may have been added to the beef.

Corned beef that has gone off and is bad will have a strong, unpleasant odor. In all cases, if the beef smells off then you should not risk it but rather just toss it out.

Taste

The flavor of corned beef, like all other meat, depends on what types of spices have been added to the food. Corned beef often tastes a little salty but also has a tinge of sourness to the meat. It should not taste overly sour or bitter though.

There is also a sweet, meaty taste to the beef. You should be familiar with what corned beef should taste like so that you notice any changes. If unsure, rather do not continue to eat the corned beef, but rather discard the food to be safe.

Furthermore, we do not recommend you taste corned beef that already looks and smells bad because odds are that the beef has gone off and is showing the signs of bacterial contamination and growth, which definitely can make you very ill.

Color

Corned beef should appear pink in color before it is cooked (4). It should definitely not have any areas of discoloration, any green or odd-colored spots, which could indicate fungal or bacterial growth.

Once cooked properly the color of corned beef will be brown or it may stay pink depending on whether or not it has been cured or brined in nitrates.

Use an internal cooking thermometer to check the internal temperature of the cooked corn beef is at least 145°F. If the temperature is correct then the meat is safe to consume since it has been heated and cooked to a temperature that would kill bacteria.

Avoid eating any food that looks strange, particularly if you bought the food and the color has now changed for no reason.

Texture

 An unusual texture to the corned beef is a clue that it may be spoiling. A slimy appearance is a tip-off that the food is now bad and should be thrown out. The slime is from bacterial growth on the meat. 

However, corned beef is sometimes also made with jelly, in which case there will be a jelly layer on the beef, giving it a slimy appearance, so check your packaging carefully. If you have not bought ground beef in jelly then there should not be a jelly layer or any type of slime present on the beef.

Even ground beef in jelly can go bad, so if you are unsure about the condition of your food and cannot tell a change in texture because of the jelly, you should check the odor and use-by date.  

It is important to place opened or cooked corned beef in a properly sealed container when refrigerating or freezing.

This is to stop any water or ice crystals from forming on the meat which, although this may not cause bacterial spoilage in the short term, it will cause a change in the texture of the meat and will negatively impact the taste.

How Long Is Corned Beef Good for in the Fridge?

How long corned beef can be stored for depends on how it is packaged. A package of corned beef that has not been opened and is still covered in its pickling juices can safely be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

You can store packaged corned beef, in general, in an unopened condition for 1 week and for a minimum time until the use-by date (if provided). Once the corned beef has been opened and cooked, the length of time it can be safely kept decreases to 3 or 4 days maximum.

It is important to understand that bacteria like Salmonella typhi grow easily at room temperatures and thus the beef needs to be stored appropriately and not kept for too long or you have a very real risk of the meat going bad and causing food poisoning.

How Long Can You Keep Packaged Corned Beef in the Freezer?

Uncooked corned beef should only be kept in the freezer for up to 30 days. After this time, you will notice that the beef tastes different and the texture also changes.

Although it may still be safe to eat even after being stored for 60 days, corned beef that is uncooked and been frozen for a long time, will not taste as good and the texture will have deteriorated.

Use within one month of freezing uncooked corned beef for the maximum benefit and best taste and texture.

How Long Can You Keep Corned Beef in the Brine?

If you are soaking corned beef in brine yourself, then there are some things to consider. Corned beef can only be soaked in brine for a maximum of 10 days.

The time can be shorted by a day or two for small cuts of the beef. The brined beef needs to be rinsed off well before you start the cooking process.

What is the Shelf Life of Vacuum-Packed Corned Beef?

There is likely to be a sell-by date on the vacuum-packed corned beef that you buy. If you buy such a package, you can keep the beef in a refrigerator for no longer than 1 week past the sell-by date.

The rule if you make your own vacuum-packaged corn beef is also no longer than 1 week past when you sealed the corned beef. Vacuum-packaged corn beef can safely be stored in the freezer for up to 30 days.

What Happens if You Eat Out of Date Corned Beef?

Eating corned beef that is past its use-by date is not advised because you risk food poisoning. Clostridium perfringens is a dangerous bacterium that can occur in corned beef and readily grows in food that has spoiled.

In fact, an outbreak of food poisoning due to Clostridium was recorded when a delicatessen failed to properly handle and store corned beef that had been cooked, meaning that the food had turned bad (5).

Although the food was not out of date per se, it went bad because of incorrect handling and being left out all day.

Food poisoning is dangerous causing gastrointestinal distress leading to dehydration, and sometimes even kidney failure and death. This is why you must never risk eating out of date and potentially bad corned beef.

How Long is Corned Beef Good for After Sell by Date?

Corned beef has to be eaten no more than a week after the use-by date and sell-by date.  

The likelihood of bacterial or fungal growth increases if you use old corned beef. The other thing to consider is that the taste and texture will not be good as the product deteriorates over time.

To Sum Up

An unusual appearance or smell can indicate the meat is bad and eating it can make you sick. Prepare and store corned beef properly to avoid the meat spoiling and to conserve the flavor and texture.

Food poisoning is unpleasant and can be dangerous, so remember it is always best to err on the side of safety when it comes to eating corned beef.