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The White Stuff on Your Burger Patties, Explained

That white stuff on your burger patties has you scratching your head? Here’s why it probably isn’t a big deal—and what to do about it.

You’re rummaging through your fridge, eager to find those burger patties you left to thaw overnight.

With anticipation, you retrieve the package, only to be greeted by an unexpected sight—parts of the ground meat marred by a white coating.

Or perhaps you’re tending to a sizzling batch of burgers on the grill or stovetop, when suddenly a white, scum-like foam starts forming on their surface, leaving you baffled and perplexed.

So you did what any curious cook would do: You grabbed your phone to search for answers and here you are, reading this article. What exactly is that stuff on your burgers? Can they still be eaten, or should they be thrown away?

We know you have a lot of questions. No matter what the situation that brought you here, we’ve got you covered. With this guide, we aim to explain the mystery and give you with all the answers you need.

If You Found White Stuff on Raw Ground Meat

If you’ve encountered dry, white patches on your ground meat after taking it out of the freezer or thawing it overnight in the fridge, chances are you’re dealing with freezer burn.

Freezer burn is what happens when the cold air in the freezer causes moisture to evaporate from the meat, leading to dehydration. Foods with higher water content, like ground meat, are particularly vulnerable to freezer burn, especially if they’re not tightly wrapped or have been stored in the freezer for too long.1(2019, November 19). What is “freezer burn?”. Library of Congress. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from https://www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/food-and-nutrition/item/what-is-freezer-burn/2University of Georgia. How Do I… Freeze? National Center for Home Food Preservation. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/gen_freeze.html3USDA (2013, August 6). Water in Meat & Poultry. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/water-meat-poultry

Now, we have good news and bad news when it comes to dealing with freezer-burnt meat.

The good news is that freezer-burnt food is generally safe to eat, as long as it was still fresh and properly stored before freezing.

But here comes the bad news: the freezer-burnt areas will be dry and flavorless. This is why you might want to consider discarding those portions, not because they pose a safety risk, but because they won’t contribute to the quality and taste of your burgers.

If You Saw White Foam on Your Burgers During Cooking

If you happen to spot white, scum-like foam oozing out of your burger patties while they’re cooking, there’s no need to worry. This is natural, and it is a result of the proteins in the meat releasing liquid as they untangle, stiffen, and shrink in response to the heat.4(2013, July 19). When boiling meat, what causes foam on liquid? Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/ask/curiosities/curiosities-when-boiling-meat-what-causes-foam-on-liquid/article_dcba823c-7296-11e0-bc10-001cc4c03286.html

As you cook your burgers, the proteins within the ground meat untangle (denature) and become firmer (coagulate), aiding in shaping the patty and creating a desirable texture.5(n.d.). Protein: Coagulation. Institute of Food Science and Technology. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from https://www.ifst.org/lovefoodlovescience/resources/protein-coagulation During this process, the proteins also contract, causing them to squeeze out moisture. This expelled moisture can appear as white foam on the surface of the patties.

Rest assured, the presence of white foam should not indicate any safety concerns with your burgers. On the contrary, it signals that the proteins are working their magic to craft a delicious, well-formed patty.

If you’d like to get rid of this residue, use a spatula to scoop off the foamy part from the burger’s surface area. By doing so, you can remove any excess liquid and achieve a more visually appealing presentation.

And to make your burgers even tastier, continue cooking them until they develop a crispy, golden-brown crust. This browning process will help eliminate any remaining traces of foam, resulting in burgers that are not only look good but also bursting with flavors.

If the Burgers, Raw or Cooked, Have Gone Bad

Let’s discuss a critical situation where the safety of burgers comes into question.

If you come across any signs of spoilage, slime, discoloration, or a bad smell in the ground meat, it’s crucial to discard it. Attempting to cook or eat such meat can pose a risk of food poisoning.

Ground beef, pork, poultry, and just about any meat goes bad if you leave it out on the countertop for more than 1-2 hours, or if you keep it for more than 1-2 days in the fridge. Improper or prolonged storage creates an environment that fosters the growth of harmful bacteria, which can make you sick if consumed.6USDA (2015, March 23). Refrigeration and Food Safety. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/refrigeration

This is particularly important if you or someone you cook for falls into one of the at-risk groups for food poisoning. These groups include adults aged 65 and above, children under 5 years old, pregnant women and their unborn babies, and individuals with weakened immune systems (those who are sick or recovering from an illness).7(2022, August 10). People With a Higher Risk of Food Poisoning. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/people-at-risk-food-poisoning.html

Contrary to popular belief, cooking spoiled meat doesn’t make it safe to eat.

Heat can kill bacteria, but some bacterial strains have the ability to form heat-resistant spores, allowing them to survive the cooking process. Additionally, even if the bacteria are destroyed, they may leave behind dangerous toxins in the meat.

Always prioritize safety. Practice proper storage, follow recommended guidelines for meat storage times, and be vigilant for any signs of spoilage. While we all have a role to play in preventing food waste, the risk of foodborne illness isn’t worth the gamble.

Bottom Line

If you’re dealing with freezer-burnt ground meat, trim or remove the affected areas before cooking. By doing so, you’ll make your burger more enjoyable, preserving the taste and mouthfeel a hamburger is meant to have.

If you see white foam oozing from the burger patties during cooking, scrub it off with your spatula. This is just meat juice getting squeezed out by the proteins as they denature and coagulate in the heat.

However, if the meat smells sour, feels sticky and slimy, and no longer has a pink to red hue, throw it away and don’t eat it. When it comes to meat, food spoilage and food poisoning often go hand in hand.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.