Corned beef is one of those traditional spring dishes that people love to eat, especially if they claim any Irish heritage, or just love a good piece of salty beef.
The corning process (using salt, not corn) preserves the beef and gives the meat its flavor and texture.
However, once the corned beef is bought, cooked, and stored, people often wonder, does corned beef go bad and how can we tell if it is bad?
I know I’ve gone to the fridge and found items that I had to guess whether they were edible or not.
Generally speaking, corned beef should smell like the spices it was brined in like peppercorn and bay leaf, but if it smells like rotten eggs or sulfur, or has a gluey surface, don’t eat it. Bad beef will taste extra salty and sour and could lead to food poisoning.
There are several different shelf-lives for corned beef, depending on how you want to store it, but it’s best to be safe when preparing food.
Does Corned Beef Ever Go Bad?
Because corned beef is pickled and brined in salt and spices, it is difficult for corned beef to go bad. However, it does happen.
A lot depends on storage conditions and how long the corned beef has been left out of refrigeration.
One way to tell if corned beef has gone bad is to smell the meat. Bad corned beef will often smell like sulfur and feel slimy. This is not an uncommon smell for corned beef due to the sodium nitrate used during the curing process. Often it will have mold on it as well.
It’s usually best not to taste the beef if you suspect it has gone bad, but if you do, it will usually taste extra salty and sour and could lead to a bout of food poisoning.
Vacuum-packed, store-bought and homemade corned beef are usually “pickled” with a brine of salt, spices, and sodium nitrate, which can sometimes mask a rotten smell.
However, thoroughly rinsing the beef will often help reveal any rotten odor coming from the meat.
A slimy texture can also be due to the brine as well because brine removes collagen from the meat, which is another reason to rinse the beef several times.
A vacuum-packed and store-bought corned beef should have a sell-by date printed on the package.
As long as you have refrigerated or frozen the beef for the whole time, it can be eaten for at least a few weeks past that date.
Homemade corned beef, if it is still uncooked, should have a deep red color before bringing. Avoid graying meat, as that likely means, the cut has been refrigerated for too long. You should also lookout for a nice layer of fat over the meat.
After brine, the meat will likely have a pink color due to the sodium nitrates.
Canned corned beef has a much longer shelf-life. It can usually last from 3-to 5 years. However, it can stay safe for use after that.
If you open a can of corned beef and don’t eat it within a couple of hours, throw it out; bacteria can form very quickly in certain temperatures.
If the canned corned beef develops an off odor, flavor, or appearance, or if mold appears, it should be discarded. Discard all canned corned beef from cans or packages that are leaking, rusting, bulging, or severely dented.
If you’re still unsure if the beef is good, or if the meat is slimy and sticky, it may be harmful. It’s not likely to be contaminated, but it’s a good idea to double-check the temperature to avoid getting sick from bacteria that may have built up.
It should also be tender when it’s cold, if it’s frozen, or if it hasn’t been cooked for a long time.
However, to test the “goodness” of the beef, try rinsing the brine from the beef several times. If the smell persists, the meat has most likely turned.
How Long Does Vacuum Sealed Brisket Last?
Generally, and under ideal conditions, beef will last approximately four weeks from the date it was packed.
If it is vacuum-sealed and uncooked, it should be good for about 30-45 days from the pack date, given that your refrigerator is kept at 34-36 degrees.
If you don’t plan on cooking it within the next month or so, you can always move it to the freezer.
The exact answer to this question largely depends on storage and when the corned beef has been cooked, or if it is cooked at all.
If the beef is vacuum-sealed, it will keep for a long time, usually well beyond the “best by” date on the package.
Corning, using salt, or a brining liquid, helps preserve meat without refrigeration, so vacuum-packing helps double down on that preservation.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the USDA, and the CDC, corned beef should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking, since bacteria begins forming at temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F.
According to some researchers, we can maximize the shelf life of cooked corned beef by refrigerating the corned beef in shallow airtight containers or wrapping it tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
If it is properly stored, cooked corned beef should last for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator before reheating; corned beef that is thawed in the microwave or in cold water should be eaten immediately.
If the beef is in its package with pickling juices, you can store it unopened in its package in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days. In general, products with a “use-by” date can be stored unopened in the refrigerator until that date unless you choose to freeze them.
However, if the package begins to bulge this is a clear indication that bacteria are present inside the packet.
Bacteria feed on the contents of the pouch and produce gas. Since this gas cannot escape from the sealed packet, it accumulates inside and causes the pouch to bloat.
How Do You Store Corned Beef Without Refrigeration?
The National Center for Home Food Preservation notes that there is no safe option for canning cured or brined meats.
Researchers, like Dr. Elizabeth Andress at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, said that she cannot find any evidence that the USDA meat canning research on currently accepted methods included cured meats.
There were some methods used in the 1940s, but the USDA does not recommend these methods now, due to the potential for microbes and bacterium.
How Long Can You Keep Packaged Corned Beef in the Freezer?
To further extend the shelf life of cooked corned beef, freeze it; freeze in covered airtight containers or heavy-duty freezer bags, or wrap tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer wrap.
In general, meat that is properly stored will last about 2-3 months for the best quality; however, it will stay good even longer, and cooked corned beef kept at 0℉ will remain safe and at a high quality for anywhere from 1–12 months.
Even if you buy packaged corned beef on sale after St. Patrick’s Day, you can freeze the corned beef before the expiration date marked on the package to have it later in the year.
However, once you’ve cooked and reheated the meat, it’s best not to refreeze the leftovers. Freezing affects the taste and texture and could even lead to bacteria growth.
If the corned beef is fresh, wrapped airtight, not already cooked, and frozen right away, it can be kept in the freezer for six to twelve months.
To tell if your corned beef has gone “bad” or has gotten freezer burn, look for the telltale whitish splotches—ice crystals—on the food itself or even dry or discolored spots (like grey or brown spots) on the food.
According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, freezer burn doesn’t affect the safety of the food, just the taste and quality.
Item Days/ Months Fridge/ Freezer & Temp
|Fresh Brisket||Keeps for 5 days||In fridge at 35-40 ºF|
|Fresh Brisket||Keeps for 8 days||In fridge at temp lower than 35 ºF|
|Fresh Brisket||Keeps for 6-12 months||Freezer, wrapped airtight and frozen immediately|
|Cooked corned beef||Keeps for 2-3 days||In fridge at 35-40 ºF|
|Cooked corned beef||Keeps for 2-3 months||Freezer, best quality, wrapped airtight|
|Cooked corned beef||Keeps 1-12 months||Freezer, wrapped airtight|
|Canned corned beef||Keeps 3-5 years||Shelf, room temp.|
How Do You Defrost Corned Beef?
To defrost frozen corned beef safely:
- Always defrost frozen corned beef in the refrigerator, not the countertop. You should keep it in the packaging and transfer it from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw overnight.
- Place the corned beef roast in a pot large enough to catch any drippings.
- Cover completely with clear plastic wrap.
- Position the roast in your refrigerator.
- Allow the roast to stand in your refrigerator until the corned beef has defrosted.
Depending on the size and weight of the meat, this can take 2 to 5 days. I
f the corned beef has not already been cooked, you can cook it from frozen without thawing it first. However, you will need to extend the initial cooking time.
Is Raw Corned Beef Supposed to be Slimy?
Raw corned beef is brined, well, it’s pickled, and that removes collagen from the meat, so yes it has a viscous, thick, or even sticky or slimy feeling to some people, which is part of why it needs rinsing in several changes of water.
The other reason to rinse it is to get the salt off the surface.
When prepared or stored incorrectly corned beef may become a hub for Clostridium perfringens, which causes one of the most common types of food-borne illness in the United States, according to the CDC.
Brine generally has a bluish hue/tint. Brine also becomes very tacky or gluey to touch.
There is a difference between being gluey and being slimy. Slimy is ok, gluey is not, which is why rinsing is very important.
If the slimy feel is accompanied by a sour, or putrid smell, it’s best to throw the meat away.
What is the Jelly on Some Corned Beef?
There are some corned beefs that are meant to be a little slimy looking. Jellied corned beef is a specialty dish which is made from corned beef which is mixed with gelatin and poured into a loaf mold.
To make jellied corned beef, cooks first need corned beef, a cut of beef which is pickled in brine and then cooked slowly to tenderize it and bring out the flavor of the brine.
Shredded vegetables and spices are added to the beef and beef stock and then added to the bloomed gelatin. The mixture is poured into a mold and refrigerated to set.
Is it Safe to Eat Out-of-Date Corned Beef?
If the corned beef is sealed in cryovac with brine, the seal is fully intact, there is no appearance of mold, and it doesn’t have a putrid smell, there is no reason to think that the beef is not safe.
In addition, cooking the beef for several hours (low and slow) to reach the correct temperature (a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F or above), will help remove the chances of any food poisoning.
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What Happens If I Eat Bad Corned Beef?
Food poisoning is possible if you eat bad or undercooked corned beef. Watch for symptoms like diarrhea, stomach cramps, or vomiting within 6 to 24 hours after exposure.
If symptoms persist, visit your doctor, as this could be a rare, but more serious issue. If you are unsure about how to prepare or store your corned beef, you can always follow the USDA’s helpful manual (“Corned Beef and Food Safety”).
Corned beef is a wonderful and tasty addition to your recipe rotation. While it can be a salty dish, it also has lots of protein, vitamin B12, and iron. But, it’s not just about the benefits of the meat.
It tastes really good, too, and once it’s cooked, it becomes a versatile cut of beef that can be enjoyed year-round in Reuben sandwiches, hash, Corned beef and Cabbage, soup, or even a casserole.
Even while modern takes on this dish take hold, and chefs invent new ways of brining, and “corning” the beef, it’s important to remember that eating corned beef is not an Irish thing.
It’s an Irish-American-Jewish thing. It’s more about bringing people together when times are tough and celebrating the things we have in common, despite our differences, which is why you see so many variations on this dish and how to eat it.
Just always be careful and make sure you watch your temperatures and storage guidelines.
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I had a successful career in the accounting field, steps away from becoming a CPA. I decided to give up on my career in order to raise my own kids (as opposed to letting a nanny do it, no judgment here :)) I learned a lot and I love sharing it with other moms. Along the way, I also became a Certified Food Handler.