Why Ground Beef Smells Like Sulfur

Have you ever noticed that ground beef smells a bit like sulfur? It’s a pretty distinct smell, and it can be challenging to get rid of. But why does ground beef smell like that in the first place? And can you do anything to make it smell less pungent? Keep reading to find out!

Why Ground Beef Smells Like Sulfur

Why Ground Beef Smells Like Sulfur

Ground beef is just what it sounds like ground-up beef. But why does it smell like sulfur? The truth is, it’s not the actual meat that smells like sulfur; you’re smelling the preservatives added to keep the meat from spoiling.

It’s technically an off-putting mineral smell and taste since excessive amounts can make you sick. The sulfur-like odor is hydrogen sulfide (H2S for short).

What causes the smell of ground beef to be like sulfur?

Hydrogen Sulfide has several causes, but one of its most common causes is bacterial growth. As an antimicrobial chemical, hydrogen sulfide forms as microorganisms like bacteria break down proteins in meat. It can form during the production process and while food is stored for periods.

When H2S comes in contact with moist air, it turns into sulfur dioxide (SO2), which gives off that pungent odor. This happens when the meat is ground up since there’s more surface area for the air to come in contact with.

How can you tell if ground beef smells like sulfur?

You may be able to detect a strong scent of hydrogen sulfide as soon as you take it out of the package. But some manufacturers add other scents and chemicals which mask the unpleasant odor, so it may not always be easy to tell.

The best way to tell if ground beef you’ve just bought has a sulfur smell is to cook it and see if the scent follows. If you’re at someone else’s house, ask them how their food smells before cooking it! If there’s any hint of sulfur in the air, don’t eat the meat.

If you’ve already cooked it and it smells, don’t worry. But if there’s a hint of sulfur in your otherwise delicious dinner, try cooking your next batch in a different way to mask the smell. Or choose another cut of corned beef brisket instead of one that isn’t ground up.

What can you do to prevent ground beef from smelling like sulfur?

Your best bet at avoiding a smelly dinner is to buy meat that doesn’t have any extenders or preservatives. Some unwritten rules of the butcher:

What can you do to prevent ground beef from smelling like sulfur
  • If it smells funny, don’t eat it. Avoid unfresh meats with a foul odor.
  • Buy from butchers you trust. If the meat smells incredibly fresh and there’s no off-putting odor, you can bet it’s safe to eat.
  • Read the labels before buying. Look for an ingredients list and make sure you recognize all of the items on it (you should be able to tell if something is potentially unsafe).
  • Avoid pre-packaged meat whenever possible. There’s a good chance you ground up this meat long before it got to the store, so there’s more chance for bacteria and H2S to accumulate.
  • Ground beef doesn’t have an expiration date, but it does have a “sell by” date on the package. Make sure you cook and eat it before this date has passed!

For more tips

  • If you’re worried about the sulfur smell in your ground beef, give these tips a try next time you buy some at the grocery store. Your flavor buds (and guests) will thank you.
  • But if you find yourself with a smelly dinner, follow these steps to fix the problem:
  • If your ground beef is raw, put it in the fridge immediately, or else it will not go well. Cook it within two days of purchase at most.
  • Throw away all leftovers and anything that may have had raw meat juices. If you can’t, wash the area with warm water and soap before using it again.
  • Wash your hands full after touching or holding raw meat. This is important to prevent cross-contamination (i.e., raw meat juices touching anything else in your kitchen).
  • Boil any dishes used for raw beef, or wash them in the dishwasher if the heat will kill all germs.
  • Clean your sink, kitchen surfaces, and other areas where raw meat may have spilled with hot water and soap. Don’t forget to wear gloves.
  • Cook all ground beef thoroughly (to at least 160 degrees). If there’s a hint of a sulfur smell, even if the meat is cooked through, then toss it. It may make you sick or cause unpleasant side effects like diarrhea.
  • If you think your ground beef has gone bad because of an off odor (even if you cooked it), don’t take any chances to throw it away immediately.

FAQ About Ground Beef Smells Like Sulfur

What does the cause of ground beef smell like sulfur?

Some people can detect an aromatic scent of hydrogen sulfide as soon as they take the meat out of its package. However, this isn’t always an indication that the meat has gone bad because some manufacturers add scents and chemicals to mask unpleasant odors. But if you are not confident in how the meat smells, don’t take any chances.

How can I avoid the sulfur smell in ground beef?

By purchasing fresh cuts of preservative-free meat, cook your food thoroughly to kill bacteria. If there’s a slight hint of a sulfurous smell, don’t worry. Your dinner is probably safe to eat.

What are the symptoms of eating bad ground beef?

If your ground beef smells like anything other than meat or spices, it may have gone bad. Some symptoms of eating food with bacteria present are stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, fever, diarrhea, and fatigue. Contact your doctor directly if you notice any of these symptoms after eating your meal.

How do I get the smell of sulfur off my hands?

Wash them with soap and warm water once you touch anything else in your home. It’s also wise to wear rubber gloves when handling raw meat. The last thing you want is for the odor to transfer to your couch, dishes, or anything else in your home!

How do I get rid of the smell of rotten meat in my fridge?

If it’s just an off odor, don’t worry about it and continue using the meat in your refrigerator. But if it’s a bad smell, throw away everything with the off odor and clean your refrigerator with disinfectant wipes. You can also wash it off with warm water and soap before using it again.

Final Verdict

Ground beef that smells like sulfur is nothing to worry about, provided you’re cooking it thoroughly. However, if you’re not sure or if the smell is extremely pungent, don’t take any chances and throw it away immediately.

Cooked ground beef that smells like anything other than meat or spices should also be disposed of properly. And clean your kitchen surfaces with bleach to kill any bacteria. If you have pets, wash their dishes in hot water since they might try to lick them.