Much of the meat sold in grocery stores today has been vaccum packed. This not only protects the meat from contaminents, but also provides a longer shelf life to the product. However, upon opening the vacuum sealed meat it can often have an unusual smell. This smell may be absolutely normal, or the meat may be spoiled. Let’s examine how you tell the difference,
Why does vacuum sealed meat smell strange once opened? Vacuum packed meat is sealed in a pouch that has had the oxygen removed. The natural juices within the meat can start to discolor and develop a tangy odor during storage. This odor is released when the pouch is opened, but provided the meat has been stored correctly and is within its use by date, the odor is unlikely to be caused by spoilage.
How Do I Get Rid Of The Smell?
As mentioned previously, it is perfectly normal for your vacuum sealed meat to have an odor to it when you first open the package. You may also notice some discoloration, as the meat will appear darker than normal.
To help remove the smell, it is advised that the meat product is gently rinsed in clean fresh water and patted dry. Do this “gently” in a bowl of water and try not to splash the water as you may inadvetently be spreading bacteria if the meat juices to work surfaces in the area. This is the reason why you should not rinse chickens etc under a running water tap!
Once you have patted the meat dry with paper towels, allow the meat to sit out at room temperature for up to 30 minutes prior to cooking. Not only will this allow the meat to cook more evenly, but you will find that the vacuum sealing odor has also disappeared. The meat will also have returned to a more normal looking color by this point.
What If The Meat Smells REALLY Bad?
As you are aware by now, a tangy sulpher type smell is not unusual, and following the previous steps should see the smell disappear before you come to cook it.
However, there are instances where the meat may have spoiled and this should not be eaten under any circumstances.
Some ways that wil help you determine whether the meat has spoiled include:
Check the seal prior to opening!
When you remove the vacuum packed meat from the refrigerator, be sure to check that the meat is still tightly sealed in the pouch. If the meat is loose within the pouch then air has entered.
If you see any signs of leaking juices, or the pouch feels slack against the meat, then there is a good chance that the seal has been compromised and the air has gotten into the pouch and caused the meat to spoil.
Check The Color Of The Meat
After rinsing and patting dry the meat and allowing it to stand, the natural color should return to the meat within the 30 minutes airing time.
If after 30 minutes the meat appears to be a grey or brown unnatural color, and is still giving an offensive odor, then the meat has probably spoiled.
Does The Meat Feel Sticky or Slimy?
Meat has a natural moist feel to it, however this is a clean feeling.
When you remove the meat from the sealed pouch to rinse it, if it has a strong smell and the meat feels sticky or slimy, then there is a good chance that it has spoiled.
You can still try to rinse the meat at this point, but after resting, if the meat still smells and is discolored, then you should dispose of it as it has spoiled.
The Meat Smells Bad But It’s Within Its ‘Use By’ Date
There may be instances where you open your vacuum sealed meat and the smell immediately lets you know that something is not right. You look at the use by date on the package and it is still within the useable date. What Now?
Your senses are your most trusted option when it comes to this scenario.
Firstly, the fact that your nose has told you that something doesn’t smell right is the first big clue. Now follow the other steps listed above and check for slimy or tackyness, and is the meat discolored.
If the answer is YES, then DO NOT eat the meat as it has spoiled. Return it to the retailer where you purchased it and ask for a refund!
The Meat Was Sealed, How Can It Be Bad?
If you have been unfortunate enough to open vacuum sealed meat that has spoiled but is within its useable date, there are several reasons why this may have occurred.
Tiny Unnoticable Air Hole
Occasionally a vacuum sealed product can appear to still be sealed, however a tiny air hole may have allowed oxygen to enter the packet. This hole will not be big enough to loosen the pouch around the meat, but big enough to let spoilage bacteria to multiply.
An air hole can occur for reasons such as the original heat seal not being strong enough to fully seal the bag, a slight crinkle in the bag when it was sealed, a minute hole in the pouch that was used prior to sealing, or a minute hole being pierced sometime after sealing.
If the product has been out of the cold chain for more than 30 minutes, or stored at a temperature above 5oC / 40oF then this can allow bacteria to multiply. This can have happened prior to the meat being packed or after.
It only takes one refrigerator or refrigerated delivery truck to have a unit that is not staying cold enough, to allow spoilage to start to occur.
Also meat stored above the load level in the grocery aisle display, in your shopping cart, or your journey home for more than 30 mins can affect the shelf life of your meat.
Also, home domestic refrigerators vary greatly in how cold they keep food depending on the setting, and the temperature can even differ by a couple of degrees between the top of the refridgerator to the bottom, and the front of the refrigerator to the back.
Close To ‘Use By’ before packing
How long the meat was left to hang prior to being butchered and packed can also affect the shelf life of the vacuum sealed meat.
Some butchers like to age the meat by hanging (see our article here about aged beef) it prior to packing. This improves tenderness and flavor. However, if the outer layer of meat was not fully trimmed properly prior to packing, then some of that spoiled meat could have ended up in the vacuum packed product.
Just A Bad Piece Of Meat
Sometimes, nothing at all has happened to the meat on its journey to your kitchen, and it was just a bad piece of meat to begin with.
Even with all the strict measures in place to ensure that quality is maintained throughout the whole meat processing procedure, ocassionally a bad piece of meat makes its way into the system and it is nobodys fault.
For instance, an animal may have had an injury that has caused an growth to form deep inside the meat. This would be impossible to see unless it was found during the cutting process. However, with a large roasting joint, the growth could be inside and nobody would know, however that would be enough to spoil the meat from the inside out.
Luckily these types of instances are very rare, but they do happen and I mention them just to illustrate that it is possible for a piece of meat to spoil through no fault of human error.
If In Doubt Throw It Out!
Hopefully you are now a little more informed as to whether that vacuum packed meat smell if normal or a sign of the meat going bad.
In the butchery trade we have the saying “If In Doubt, Throw It Out!” and this would serve you well in your kitchen too.
If you open a vacuum sealed piece of meat, and having followed the steps tips listed here you are still not confident it is safe to eat, THROW IT AWAY!
Believe me, food poisoning is very unpleasant and can even be fatal, it’s just not worth the risk.
I will just say that, although the smell of vacuum packed meat can seem a little ‘funky’, it is rarely an overwhelming smell or so strong that you are disgusted by it. Also, within 30 minutes of opening, any smell should have all but disappeared.
If the smell is strong and off putting, and doesn’t reduce after 30 minutes of ‘airing’, then you may need to look a little more closely to make sure it is not spoiled.
Extra Tip – It’s In The Cooking!
All fresh meat will give off a delicious aroma during cooking, and get your mouth watering (providing you are not a vegetarian!). We have all salivated at the smell of chicken, beef or lamb roasting in the oven.
However, if the smell you are getting during cooking is less than mouth watering, in fact it is rather off putting, then this is another sure sign that you probably shouldn’t be eating it. If it smelt bad before cooking and smells bad during cooking – It’s probably bad!