How Long is Steak Good for After its Sell-by Date?

Raw Ribeye Steak On A Wooden Board, Top View

As a steak lover, I am sure you bought your favorite cut many times, but for some odd reason just never got to cook it as planned.

When you remember that you still have that juicy fillet mignon or ribeye steak, your mouth starts watering, and your mind starts running wild.

So, you grab it from your cold box but notice that it has passed its sell-by date. The first question that crosses your mind is: Is eating still good?

The good news is that because it has passed its expiration, it does not mean that you still can not enjoy it.

Understanding Your Steak Sell-by, Use-by, and Freeze-by Dates

According to U.S. federal law, dates are not used as a safety indicator for food. The only exception to this rule is for baby formula.

You may come across other phrases used on the labels of meat and other products that may add more confusion to the mix. So, let’s unpack some of the most common terms and what they actually mean.

  • Sell-by date – this date is designed to guide the retailer more than the consumer. It is not an indicator of food safety. It is used to guide the best shelf display time and help the store owner or manager with effective inventory control.
  • Use-by date – this date indicates when the steak is at its best quality and when it will give you the best taste, aroma, and flavor. Again, this is not a food safety date.
  • Freeze-by date – this date does exactly what it says. It gives the consumer a guideline of when to freeze the steak by to maintain its flavor and quality.

So, if none of these dates helps you with safety but rather flavor and quality, how do you know if your steak is good still good or not after its sell-by date?

The Role Your Senses Play in Testing if Your Steak Is Good or Bad

Using your sense may sound too simple and is not very scientific, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests that you should use your sense of smell, touch, sight, and taste to establish whether your steak is still good or not. So, what exactly are we looking for?

  • Smell – a fresh steak has a mild bloody, metallic scent. If it has a nasty sour or ammonia-like odor, the steak may be dangerous to eat.
  • Touch – if the steak feels slimy or sticky, it is a sure sign that it has gone bad and is no longer safe to eat.
  • Sight – your steak has turned yellowish-brown or green and is no longer bright red. A moldy steak should be disposed of immediately. One thing to be careful of when using sight is if the steak was stored in a freezer, it might lose some color. This color loss is easier to identify after thawing the meat.
  • Taste – hopefully, you never need to use taste to determine whether your steak has spoiled. But if that happens, look out for one of two things, it may be dry and tasteless. While this may not make you sick, it does imply that the steak is no longer good. And two is a foul sour or bitter taste. This almost certainly will make you sick and definitely means that your steak has gone bad.

If the steak has a bad odor, a slimy texture, or dull color, it probably should be thrown into the trash. And if you missed that, an off-flavor after being cooked will give you another chance to dispose of it.

Other than your senses helping you out, the way you handle your steak plays an important role in maintaining its quality and flavor.

If you leave your steak at room temperature for 2 hours or more, it may spoil. While it may not give off an odor or does not have a slimy texture, it could still make you sick. So best you cook it within the specified sell-by or use-by dates or freeze it as soon as possible after buying it.

Refrigerating or Freezing Your Steak

Knowing when and how to use your refrigerator or freezer for proper food storage will probably give you the best value and flavor from that fillet mignon, ribeye, flank, strip, T-bone, or any of your other favorite steak cuts.

There are three ways to ensure your steak remains good even after it passes its sell-by date.

  1. Do not leave your steak at room temperature for more than 2 hours, i.e., between 40 °F and 140 °F. At this temperature over this duration, it will surely spoil as bacteria will grow and spread rapidly.
  2. The quality of your steak will remain intact for 3 to 5 days if stored correctly in your refrigerator. It should be stored in its original packaging at between 28°F to 32°F in the refrigerator to remain safe to use even a few days after its sell-by date.
  3. To extend the life and maintain the quality of steak, store it in the freezer at 0°F. This will ensure safe storage for 6 to 12 months. As long as the steak does not thaw, it will remain safe at this temperature indefinitely.

Some other useful tips for preserving the life and quality of your steak is to wrap the original packaging in heavy-duty aluminum foil or placing in a heavy-duty freezer bag. This will also save your steak from freezer burn, ensuring that it remains juicy after being thawed and cooked.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it, your favorite steaks can still be good even after you forgot about them for 6 to 12 months after their sell-by date. But this all depends on whether it was stored correctly and within the freeze-by timeline.

If you bought it for that special occasion or just because you are an avid steak lover, then it should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours before it is cooked. Otherwise, it should be stored correctly in the refrigerator for no more than 5 days before it is cooked.

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