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Foods -- Meat and Poultry

Why does cooked beef sometimes look raw when it has been cooked?

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When beef is cooked with vegetables like onion, pepper, celery, spinach, beets, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant and tomatoes, the meat may develop the pink color characteristic of cured meat. When red meat is cooked, the protein pigments, myoglobin and hemoglobin, normally change to brown. When red meat is treated with nitrate or nitrite and heated, the characteristic cured pink color develops. Nitrates and nitrites occur naturally in many foods such as the vegetables listed above. When these are cooked with red meat there may be enough nitrate/nitrite present to cause the color reaction. The concentration of nitrate/nitrite depends on a variety of factors including type of soil, variety of vegetable and growing conditions. The product is safe to eat.

PREPARED BY: Angela M. Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Food Safety Specialist, and Carolyn J. Lackey, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., Professor/Food and Nutrition Specialist, North Carolina State University (August 2004)

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