Meat is subject to premature spoilage from the moment it enters the meat processing plant until it is placed on the dinner table. Unsanitary conditions, contaminated environments, temperature variations and excess storage times all contribute to the growth of bacteria, yeasts and molds on the meat. These infections are not noticeable during the early phases of handling but continue to multiply at a faster rate than that of healthy meat. The Use By date stamped on the packaging during every phase of handling is not valid if the meat is deteriorating faster than it is supposed to due to infection. Inspect meat before it is purchased, during storage at home and before cooking.
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Check the Use By or Sell By date and do not purchase meat that has gone beyond that date. The meat goes through a number of operational and handling procedures before and after it is merchandised in the store's meat case. Some of these procedures are not up to acceptable standards and contribute to spoilage due to product contamination or temperature variations. Do not consume the meat beyond the Sell By date.
Watch carefully for packaged meats with excess blood in the package. This condition indicates the meat has been packaged with an unreasonably long shelf life or has been handled at too low a temperature.
Inspect the meat for a change in color from red to either progressively lighter or darker shades. It is normal for meat to change color in the store's display case. It is also normal for meat to change color when stored in the home refrigerator or freezer. The color change does not in itself mean the meat is bad but it is an indication to check for other symptoms of spoilage. If the off-color is present in the interior of the meat when it is cut into, it is not safe to consume.
Smell the meat as soon as the package is opened to determine if there is a strong ammonia-like odor present. A strong, unpleasant odor is a powerful indication the meat has gone bad.
Feel the meat with the fingertips; it should have a clean, firm feel. A sticky, tacky or slimy texture is a strong indication of the growth of harmful bacteria and the meat is definitely not to be consumed.
Look for growths of fine, gray hair-like follicles from the meat, an indication of mold infection.