Although we may at one point have been a society known for disposable, never eating leftovers and being too busy to recycle, thanks to the economy, there is certainly a shift in this mentality. Where we once might have thrown heap loads of food in the garbage, most of us are saving and eating leftovers. As long as you can keep something in the fridge, the freezer, or on your shelf - even if it it just a little moldy - you’re going to do it. But when does your determination to make the most of your groceries become dangerous? When do you need to throw food away? A good rule to follow is of course, the one about food that needs to be refrigerated being left out for 2 hours being unsafe. This is a good rule to follow for foods that get left out, but what about foods that get left in the fridge?
Meats are really what you hear and read the worst food poisoning horror stories about. How can you tell when to eat and when to toss it?
Fresh meats, actually meaning any meats kept in the fridge rather than the freezer, should be used within 2 days after the “Sell By/Freeze By” date on the package. Deli meats, which are precooked, are a little more flexible and safer given that cooking kills bacteria. The best indicators for meat are smell and color. If you open the meat package and it smells bad, toss it. Whether it smells or not, if it is the wrong color, it shouldn’t be consumed.
Frozen meat goes bad after a year or two, as long as it has been sealed and frozen the whole time. To get the most flavor out of frozen meat, you won’t want it to live in the freezer more than six months though. Of course, it is likely that after a year or two it will be freezer burned beyond recognition and would taste awful anyway.
Always cook meat thoroughly, regardless of how old or new it is. Poultry and pork should be cooked to 180 degrees internally while beef can be cooked to 170 degrees internally.
The horror stories you hear about dairy are not as dangerous as they are disgusting. People pouring sour milk onto their cereal without noticing and then taking a bite is enough to pique anyone’s “yuck” meter, but the worst that will happen if you continued eating is that you’ll get a belly ache and diarrhea.
Smell is the biggest telltale sign that milk has gone bad, but the texture and color are a close second. The expiration date on milk is very, very flexible. Sometimes your milk has already turned two days before the date, and sometimes it is fine for a week after. When you start to get within a few days of the expiration date on the carton of milk, smell it each time you open it, and observe its color and consistency as you pour it. Chunky milk is bad; greenish milk is bad and smelly milk is really bad.
Is there mold on it? No? Great, it is fine, regardless of what the expiration date says, unless there is a textural issue, like dryness, or hardness, which isn’t dangerous, but tastes bad. If there is mold on it, that shouldn’t be a deal breaker. Remember, lots of cheeses are aged to make them better. If there is just a little mold, and you can cut around it, the cheese should be fine to eat, as long as it has been properly refrigerated.
Smell, smell, smell and... smell. Cottage Cheese and cream cheese may mold or experience some of the hard and dry texture issues of other cheeses, but yogurt separates and adopts a strange texture normally. Keep an eye on expiration dates, but as with milk, these products can be bad before the date and good after it’s a week past expiration. Yogurt that has gone bad will smell bad, as will cottage and cream cheese. It never hurts to take a small taste before fixing yourself a huge bowl of these products. You will be able to taste if it has gone bad. If you sense a slight tanginess that wasn’t there the day before, throw it out. Dairy isn’t supposed to be spicy.
It is usually fairly obvious when a fruit or vegetable has gone bad. Often, fresh produce will mold when they’re bad. If they haven’t molded, citrus fruits and carrots shrivel and become harder, while most other fruits and vegetables will darken in color and leak sticky – usually brown - liquids.
It’s important to remember your senses and to trust them when it comes to eating “safe” and “unsafe” foods. Your nose, eyes and taste buds will be your best friend to keep your stomach from being angry that you ignored the warning signs.