Ground beef is the protagonist of many representative dishes of Mexican gastronomy. The consistency of this source of animal protein gives it an incomparable versatility, but why does it deteriorate faster than a whole steak?
Martín Valenzuela Melendres, an academic from the Coordination of Animal Food Technology at the Center for Research in Food and Development (CIAD), explained that it is precisely the grinding process that predisposes meat to threats that can compromise its safety.
Bacteria can be found in practically any food, but in meat, the ones that cause diseases are mainly Escherichia coli, Salmonella and Listeria. It is important to point out that these bacteria cannot be seen or smelled. If these bacteria are present on the surface of the meat, at the moment of grinding, they mix with the rest and the bacteria can grow with greater probability.
To avoid the growth of pathogens, it is recommended to refrigerate it in the original packaging at 4 °C or less and use it within two days after purchase, otherwise, it is better to freeze it. If the meat is kept frozen, it is safe for very long periods, but its quality will be lost, so it is better to consume it within the first four months.
Although it is common to see a label on packages with a legend indicating the expiration date or best-before date, which is an excellent guide to knowing its state of preservation, the researcher advised that when the meat has an unpleasant odor we should consider it as a sign of deterioration.
Fresh ground beef is bright red on the outside because the oxygen in the air reacts with the pigments in the meat. There is no need to be alarmed if the inside of the meat shows a brown color, this is frequent and is due to the lack of oxygen; however, if all the meat in the package has turned brown, it may be beginning to deteriorate.
The meat products expert pointed out that most supermarkets and butcher's shops rigorously comply with conservation measures for this food and offer the consumer a safe product. However, the danger can arise once it leaves the store and adequate measures are not taken at home.
Therefore, it is important to refrigerate meat immediately after purchase, avoid contact with raw meat with other foods, clean surfaces where meat is placed, and wash hands frequently. It is also important to cook meat to a minimum temperature of 71 °C, measured with a food thermometer, and not to reuse packaging material.
Finally, the researcher from the Meat Science and Technology Laboratory explained that innovative technologies are currently being explored to increase the shelf life of fresh produce, such as the use of modified atmospheres (the air in the packaging is modified), vacuum packaging (the air in the packaging is displaced), use of active packaging (the packaging is designed with a natural antimicrobial compound) and use of high pressures. Regardless of the use of any of these, meat should always be refrigerated or frozen.