Costco Ground Beef - Packaged today, best before tomorrow. Why?
June 13, 2014 7:22 AM   Subscribe

The last couple times we've gone to Costco looking for bulk ground beef (we make chili in large batches and freeze individual portions), we noticed that it had been packaged that day, and was marked best before the very next day.

I've never asked an employee, probably should have. And if this question bears no fruit I will ask next time we are there. But does anyone have any idea why this would be? We never buy it because we are going to be using it within a couple days, but not the day immediately after we buy it.

Possibly relevant information, we are in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Thanks in advance!
posted by heavenstobetsy to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, the Best Before dates are just that -- a date before which the quality is highest, i.e. not a day on which it's regarded as spoiled. In this case it means that Costco doesn't want to sell ground beef more than one day after its packed because that's when Costco judges that the beef will have fallen below Costco's quality standards.

Ground beef degrades faster than steaks or roasts because so much more surface area is exposed to air and, potentially, bacteria.
posted by jon1270 at 7:29 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding jon1270, and adding that Costco is more aggressive than most places when it comes to food quality, especially meat. Ground meat is one of those iffy danger products, and it really is best to eat it as soon as possible after it's been ground.

It's not, like, gonna explode tomorrow or anything. It's not even going to go "bad." It's just not going to be the absolute top quality that Costco wants to sell and brand as their top quality ground beef.
posted by phunniemee at 7:34 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a rule, I don't buy ground beef unless I'm going to use it that day or immediately freeze it for later thaw-out and use. As previously mentioned, it spoils a lot faster than steaks or roasts.

I used to do something very similar: I'd buy ground beef in bulk at BJ's, make a lot of meat sauce for pasta THAT SAME DAY, use some of the sauce for dinner that evening, and freeze the rest.

You'd probably be OK to buy the meat and freeze it for a few days before you thaw it out for a chili-making bonanza, but I'd be wary of re-freezing it in your chili once the chili is made. I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I've always been told you shouldn't thaw out meat you've previously frozen and then freeze it again.

It's probably best to wait to buy your ground beef the day that you make your chili or the day before (keeping it in the fridge of course).
posted by tckma at 7:37 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I very often buy meat that's been heavily marked down because it expires the next day and throw it in the freezer when I get home, and defrost and cook it a few weeks later.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:38 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've always been told you shouldn't thaw out meat you've previously frozen and then freeze it again.

Raw meat. You can freeze it again after you've cooked it.

I suspect, because my meat packages from Costco are always very clean, that they repackage. So it may have gotten set out on 6/1 with a sell-by of 6/4, and then repackaged on 6/3 with the same sell-by of 6/4.

The better-packaged it is, incidentally, the longer it will live past the sell-by. But you should on average get at least 4-5 days past sell-by without the color starting to change.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:50 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

adding that Costco is more aggressive than most places when it comes to food quality, especially meat

Yes, and remember, also, that Costco was one of the stores selling the E. coli contaminated-beef a couple years ago. I think they are working to regain their reputation as a quality beef provider after that, with more rigorous best-by dates. But it will be, as others comment, fine after that, especially if you're using it in a dish you'll cook it thoroughly in.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:58 AM on June 13, 2014

The real reason not to refreeze meat that has already been frozen-then-thawed is that the texture of the meat tends to become mushy and tastes somewhat freezer burnt.
posted by axismundi at 9:06 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Consider it a pull-by date for costco, not a best buy date. If it doesn't sell by tomorrow, they pull it off the shelf (and probably use it for something).
posted by bensherman at 9:32 AM on June 13, 2014

I would put the "best before" time on ground meat somewhere around two hours after it's ground, or maybe fewer. Grinding meat exposes massive surface area for oxidation, and the meat loses its best qualities rather rapidly.

Some years ago I did an experiment with my (sadly departed) friend Steven Shaw, where we were trying to figure out the best cuts of beef and the best fat percentage for hamburgers. In order to make this work, we purchased a variety of cuts which we ground and blended ourselves. We also purchased a package of already-ground 80/20 beef chuck as a "control sample." This was all purchased at a very high-volume meat department on an open plan. Everything was clean, and we could see they were grinding the same beef chuck we would be grinding ourselves. The ground beef we purchased had not only been ground the same day we bought it, but only a few hours before we bought it. Fast forward to our testing, and by the time we tasted the hamburger made from the already-ground beef, we had already tasted around 12 different blends made from meat we had ground ourselves just prior to starting the experiment. In at least one instance, the only difference was who had done the grinding and when. The already-ground beef hamburger tasted so jarringly different compared to what our palates had become accustomed to, that we both immediately spit out the first bite thinking that the meat had somehow spoiled. But upon consideration (and examination of the leftover raw meat) we decided that this couldn't be the case. Upon resampling that burger, we noted an iron-like oxidized flavor that was familiar and quite common in hamburgers. This was something to which we might not have normally objected, but had struck us as an obvious defect because of the marked absence of this flavor in the fresh-ground burgers. In conducting some follow-up testing, it became obvious that meat begins to decline immediately after it is ground and that the quality of ground meat declines as a function of time. This is primarily due to oxidation, but of course grinding meat is also incredibly effective at spreading around whatever spoilage organisms are present.

The end result for me is that I always grind my own meat.
posted by slkinsey at 11:25 AM on June 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

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