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What foods do not spoil?

I know that honey doesn't spoil usually, even at room temperature, but i'm curious about other foods that don't spoil, despite their labels etc.

For example, I've been keeping my strawberry jam at room temperature (even though the label says i should keep it refrigerated) for over 8 months (!) and it tastes fine.. and i feel fine after eating it.. same thing with peanut butter.

What about other things? does water (once you've opened it) ever spoil in the bottle if left out in the car too long? what about crackers, cookies etc? potato chips?

what about garlic? if it's all mushy, is it time to throw it out? i guess most veggies and fruits are only good for 1-2 weeks?

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  1. Opened water left in a car = mold after a while. And it's just not fresh. Same thing goes for crackers, chips, etc. They'll go stale, so why push it?

    Jam... maybe, but why not put it in the fridge and make it last longer? I have to assume you have enough space in your fridge for a jar of jam...

    Garlic. My garlic doesn't turn mushy, it dries out. Mushy garlic is most certainly not good. You should throw it out immediately. If you're talking jarred garlic, well shame on you.

    I'd say there are very few things that are good forever. Honey is a remarkable thing, yes, but even canned goods have a "best by..." date.

    If you're running a scientific experiment this question may be worth exploring, but why risk freshness and defy ingredient labels if it does no good?

    6 Replies
    1. re: HaagenDazs

      Not only will the water get moldy, it can develop harmful bacteria once opened, a worse problem since you won't be able to taste it and tell it has gone 'bad'.

      1. re: HaagenDazs

        My grandparents have kept their jam out on the kitchen table for as long as I can remember, and have not suffered any ill effects as a result. My grandma even keeps her Hellman's mayo in the cabinet after opening, though I'm a little dubious about that one . . . can't say I've ever gotten sick at her house though!

        We Americans are known for our non-refridgerated food phobia, and perhaps in some cases, it really is an unnecessary worry.

        1. re: operagirl

          Maybe it is an unnecessary worry, but I'll give you $1000 if you can't find enough space in your fridge for a couple jars of condiments. My point is - do you lose quality by refrigerating a jar of jam or mayo? No. Do you prolong the life on such an item when refrigerated? Yes. Why risk it? Maybe your grandparents are only used to keeping stuff out on the table because they grew up with it that way. I'm not kidding here, but refrigerators as we know them are a relatively recent household appliance.

          1. re: HaagenDazs

            Hmm don't worry about me -- I'm as refridgerator-happy as the next gal. My soy sauce, ketchup, and other sundry condiments are quite frigid! I was just mentioning my grandparents as an example.

            1. re: HaagenDazs

              Jam is better unrefrigerated for FLAVOR. If you notice in most European nations they dont refrigerate many fruit and veggies do to this fact. IMHO we americans need to stress freshness and not preservatives.

              1. re: Jimbosox04

                Agreed about jam & jelly- tastier at room temp. Both these foods were around long before refrigeration, and they used to be called "preserves."

          1. re: eLizard

            It doesn't spoil per se but it does lose flavor.

            1. re: jpschust

              Does mold growth count as "spoiled"?

              I once had a jar of honey that was starting to become its own ecosystem ...

              1. re: ipsedixit

                That's strange - maybe it had some extra water in it or something? Maybe it was a highly processed brand (for whatever reason)? There's been honey found in Egyptian tombs that's still good...

                1. re: HaagenDazs

                  Exactly- true honey should still be ok to eat years later, but at the same time it won't taste as good.

                  1. re: HaagenDazs

                    Yep, honey will crystallize but it has definite antiseptic properties- the ancient Egyptians used it not just as a food but also as a wound dressing, and recent studies have found it to be as effective as modern triple antibiotic ointment on minor cuts.

            2. Very salty things, like anchovies, don't usually spoil. They just need to be stored (meaning closed in a jar or container) at the room tempurature properly without being exposed to high heat or light

              Tea leaves do not spoil but they should be stored in containers or zipped bags properly

              Dried ingredients do not spoil but may lose flavor if kept for a looong time.

              1. the reason i'm wondering is that i tend to keep a lot of foodstuff in my office, and not at the communal fridge (because it's very far and i'm too lazy to walk there), and i just noticed today, as i was eating my strawberry jam that it's been sitting there for 8 months at least.. my office is definitely temperature controlled and not overheated.. but still, i was shocked.. and wanted to get a list of other food items i may be able to keep in my office so i dont have to trek out to the communal kitchen.

                6 Replies
                1. re: koreankorean

                  Jam should be be fine if it still looks and tastes ok. The sugar preserves it, even at room temperature.

                  1. re: Kagey

                    You've had jam out for 8 months and it hasn't gone bad? My friend gave me a jar of home made raspberry jam, which I kept in the fridge. Even in the fridge, it started to develop mold spores after a month and a half or so. I was so bummed!! I had to throw it out, after a measly 1.5 months.

                    1. re: anzu

                      That's homemade. It doesn't have the preservatives, and may not have as much sugar in it as store-bought jam.

                      As far as other goods, whether they have fat in them and the type of fat has a lot to do with how long they will last. I'm no expert, but I believe that trans fats and some tropical fats like coconut oil have a much longer shelf life than other types of oils.

                      ipsedixit mentions spoiled honey; it could have been contaminated by something else, perhaps? Always use a clean spoon/implement to remove the honey.

                      1. re: Full tummy

                        It depends on the sugar level; 66% sugar jam doesn't go off. Lower percentages need to be refrigerated.

                        Honey isn't necessarily shelf stable either; it depends on the natural moisture level; high levels of water allow it to ferment or otherwise degrade.

                  2. re: koreankorean

                    I wouldn't risk it personally. You don't have to see or taste bacteria for it to be harmful. Room temperature is the danger zone, so it doesn't have to be overly heated for something to go bad. I would not eat out of an open jar jam that has been out of the fridge for more than a couple days personally. Other people will say we are too cautious, or that their grandparents did this and that (mayo!!!!) and they have not been sick. It only takes one time for it to be a major problem and something you don't want to experience ever again.
                    Non-natural peanut butter is fine because it has preservatives. Honey should be fine. Can't think of much else.

                    1. re: koreankorean

                      I too will keep a lot of foodstuff in my office (and I don't like using the communal fridge because things go missing). So while the things I am going to list, eventually do spoil, they keep pretty well for a while in my office: cereal (work has free milk in fridge), pop tarts, oatmeal packets, cup ramen, soy sauce, hot sauce, crackers, some chocolate, a little pepper grinder, a little salt grinder, and granola bars. Its kinda embarrassing how much I have in there so I don't open up that file drawer when people are around! Oh, and a few bottles of water.

                    2. It all depends on humidity, in humid environments many items will turn moldy. It is also important to use clean utensils - if you use a dirty spoon to scoop your jam - it will turn moldy. You can also keep PB in your office indefinitely.

                      1. I believe the French wrote the book on non refrigerated food preservation with the discovery of Duck Confit. That is, remove any of the three major contributors to bacteria growth, in this case air, and food will last much longer. By cooking and subsequently storing meat ie. duck legs in a fat medium ie. duck fat, you eliminate the transfer of air and even H2O into the food and therby increase it's length of safe storage. One could, with good results, store properly made confit items in a cool place, not necessarily the fridge, for weeks, even months. The beauty of the confit is that while keeping harmful bacterial growth to a minimum, the stored food item actually develops more depth of flavour the longer it is preserved. Cool food science from before food science was invented.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: formerlyfingers

                          I don't think French own that method - this has served as food preservation for many nomadic people, whose main diet staple is meat.

                          1. re: welle

                            Duly noted, but we can thank the French tradition for giving a context and a story that creates relevance even in todays cuisines.

                            1. re: formerlyfingers

                              Disagree. I work in part on food biotechnology. Before you all throw your collective hands up in disgust, my part of such work has to do with age-old traditional techniques: making booze, beer, cheese, tofu, miso, pickles, salt or smoke preserved fish and meat, fish sauce, burying rotting flesh, use of spices as preservatives, making different fermented products that end up being sweet desserts, methods to make palatable foods from products like bitter cassava, capturing airborne yeasts or supplying them from spit,...all traditional biotech! And all important in terms of human nutrition and culture. All pre-date the French! They're global techniques that have been independently invented all over the place (and that may show that Americans' emphasis on refrigeration and sell-by dates is a bit over the top).

                              And, my goodness, I don't want to drink water from a plastic bottle that has been in your car for a few months, but the water SPOILING??!!!

                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                But we call it confit!!! That's my point, plain and simple. If other cultures or cuisine types claim these discoveries at various points in history, great, but they haven't permeated our classical cooking technique or been given technical appreciation in the form of grand cuisine a la Larousse or Escoffier. If they have, please clarify and bring into focus for me.

                                1. re: formerlyfingers

                                  Yes, you're completely right that the French created French food. On the other hand, my point was that food preservtion methods have been developed by humans everywhere over time prior to the French.

                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    Hey Sam, good thread, with the intention from me not being to undermine your information, only to seek actual examples of similar techniques that you make reference to. I brought the specific example of duck confit, which is a specialised and named technique. Do other cultures cook and preserve duck meat in duck fat? If they do, fine, but if you are talking about other products being preserved naturally from other cultures, them why even make it an issue? I was merely offering an actual example of an item which answers the original posters question. Was not intending to start a chicken and egg debate or a history lesson, only bringing forward one example that is easy to recognize and that has relevance in our time; it's on menus everywhere!!

                                    1. re: formerlyfingers

                                      Formerly, yes, there are no other peoples that I know of who have come up with duck confit. My initial and only disagreement was with the idea that the French wrote the book on non-refrigerated food preservation.

                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        Fair enough. Interesting subject though. Can you elaborate on other examples from other cultures from your studies?

                                        1. re: formerlyfingers

                                          I think chuño, Bolivian freeze-dried potato is a good example.

                        2. there's a difference between spoiling and freshness. crackers and cereal will lose crunch, and probably nutrients, but rarely go bad. open bags of chips and pretzels will lose crispness, so what's the point? i wouldn't worry about an open water bottle, unless you tend to spit in it. i keep peanut butter for months.

                          anchovies, capers, pickled peppers all do just fine at room temp for awhile.

                          i keep my garlic and onions on a pantry shelf, and they last for weeks before going mushy or brown. if there's a spot, i slice it off and use the rest.

                          truly, i think americans are overly-paranoid about refrigeration. i'd be more worried abou being unwilling to walk down the hall and work off a bit of that jam!

                          1. This topic was recently discussed in another post and I was surprised at the number of items that DON'T need to be refrigerated, even if the bottle says it should be.


                            1. My personal favourite is pickled onions. I have jars that say once open refridgerate and use within a month. Sorry, they are pickled and stored in vinegar. What nonsense. Granted they are best eaten quickly before they lose the crunch but I ask you!

                              1. soya sauce, i have never refrigerated mine, and neither did my parents and it tastes fine and lasts forever..
                                but i have a question..what about lemon juice? Will it go bad?

                                1. I'm pretty sure fish sauce and vinegar don't go bad. Or it takes so much time that you're pretty much guaranteed to use them up first.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: piccola

                                    If you refrigerate fish sauce, crystals develop in it. I keep mine in the pantry now, along with vinegars and most oils. Most condiments with high vinegar/sugar content don't necessarily go bad, but I keep them in the fridge simply because I have 8 different mustards for different things, and it can take a year to go through some of them.

                                    Things like capers and green peppercorns in vinegar I keep in the fridge even though they don't need to be, along with many spices in the fridge and freezer to keep them longer. Flours, the ones I don't use very often like self rising and whole wheat, are in the fridge to keep them bug free. I have three refrigerators and one separate upright freezer.

                                    1. re: piccola

                                      I bought a gallon of red wine vinegar and was keeping it on a shelf. Few days ago I notice on the label it says "Refrigerate after opening."

                                      I didn't. It's freaking vinegar. How can that spoil? Is this labelling just a legal maneuver?

                                      1. re: Panini Guy

                                        Possibly, but refrigeration can retard it growing a mother.

                                    2. Honey doesn't spoil, but it does contain spores sometimes, which is why it's dangerous to give to babies because they don't have the immunity for the spores present within the honey, otherwise it's fine. Jam doesn't spoil because of the fact that it is 60% sugar which prevents fungul growth as well as bacterial growth. Water can contain bacteria and if allowed to multiply could be dangerous, Caulobacter is a perfect example of that (it can survive even on distilled water and needs almost nothing to keep it a live, just dust). As for the crackers, chips and cookies, the just get stale I guess. Garlic might contain acid that inhibits bacterial growth. But I wouldn't recommend taste testing as the only way to check if they're safe, it's not the safest way to go.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: indyj11

                                        I leave ketchup, soy sauce, and hot sauce unrefrigerated and I've never had to throw any of it out.

                                      2. Traditional preservatives through the ages are salt and sugar. Today manufacturers put warning labels to refrigerate after opening as a legal precaution. Jams, jellies, syrups, etc., should keep on the shelf as well as in the refrigerator, assuming they have a high enough sugar content.

                                        If the bottle of water has been touched by human lips, throw it out. If not, it should be good.

                                        Honey is the only food that never spoils. But that applies to RAW honey. Most honey we get today has been pasturized, which doesn't mean it will spoil, but it will lose flavor. W:hy do retailers mess with our food!? All honey will crystalize with time. You just need to nuke it for a few seconds to return it to a liquid form. Archaeologists have eaten honey over a thousand years old and found it quite tasty. But who is to say whether it tasted as good as it did a thousand years ago?

                                        1. Then there are the things that have so many preservatives in them that they just won't spoil; hot dogs, f'rinstance. They've found raw hot dogs in landfills over 40 years old that are still 'good.'

                                          Twinkies have a shelf life of several thousand years, I believe.

                                          1. daengjang doesn't go bad and neither does gochujang. When it has mold on it you just scrape it off and use the bottom part. my mom keeps dangjang in ceramic pots that are a few years old and boy are they stinky....but really really good.

                                            1. I am shocked nobody mentioned Twinkies! Thats an old running joke isn't it?

                                              1. ketchup, soya sauce and mustard. I have yet to see Marmite go off.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: smartie

                                                  And if marmite went off, could anyone tell? ;)

                                                2. My partner and I were craving dessert in December 2005 and decided to go to our local neighbourhood grocery store to grab something. I try generally (due to health reasons) to avoid chemicals in my food when possible, but this was one of those discount stores where everything had an ingredient list a mile long. I managed, after much hunting around, to locate a pound cake that, while still laden with preservatives and artificial agents, was less chemical than the alternatives.

                                                  We ate most of it, tossed the remainder into the fridge, and promptly forgot about it until we went to clean out our fridge and found it hidden at the back four months later. It was still pristine... not a speck of mold on it. Now it's become something of a running gag amongst us and our friends. Every month or so when we thoroughly reorganize and clean the fridge, we check the pound cake. Two years later, it is still mold free, and while dried out, still smells and seems completely edible. Truly a testament to the power of anti-fungal agents and preservatives.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: vorpal

                                                    fish sauce, soy sauce, hot sauce and chipotles in adobo. i'm assuming all of these don't spoil because of the salt and heat?

                                                    1. re: rebs

                                                      Depends on the kind of soy sauce. Japanese shoyu, such as Kikoman, is naturally brewed and will spoil if left out. It should be refrigerated, and even then it can lose its flavor when stored a very long time. I taste mine regularly.

                                                    2. re: vorpal

                                                      was it a sara lee poundcake? I must confess that I absolutely love those things...but haven't had one in a LONG time thankfully

                                                      1. re: bitsubeats

                                                        Nope! Just a generic brand.

                                                        *scratches head*
                                                        Now that I think about it, I don't think we get a lot of Sara Lee up here in Canada.

                                                    3. HONEY! Or at least it feels like honey can be around forever.....

                                                      1. Can salad dressing last quite a long time too? Things like.. Ranch, 1000Islands, etc.. they have vinegar in them too right? I find the due dates always state a couple months, but they seem fine even long after that period.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: glitch

                                                          I don't think dressings that have dairy in them will last that long.

                                                          1. re: glitch

                                                            Like mayonnaise, Ranch and Thousand Island dressing don't have enough vinegar in them to act as a preservative and therefore require refrigeration. With time, their flavor will go "off".

                                                          2. McDonalds. didn't all of you see the extra section of Super Size DVD.

                                                            1. I thought Cream of Wheat (dry and unopened) would be a non-perishable but apparently it gets tiny black bugs with wings. It gave me the cream of wheat heebie jeebies.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Cookiepants

                                                                There are some bugs that are just so tiny they can get into even the littlest hole.... Yuck!

                                                              2. One thing that really surprised me was a traditional steamed Christmas pudding, or plum pudding - made with suet, raisins, bread crumbs, sugar, and so on. The recipes say that often people used to make these a year ahead of time and let them age. I was skeptical; but one year I made one, ate half of it, and put the other half away and sort of forgot about it. A year later, looking in the pudding mold, there it was - still apparently fine (and no, it didn't have mold on it - it was in the mold used to steam it). So I tentatively tasted it, and it was fine. In fact the aging did seem to improve it - made it more cohesive. So we had it again for that holiday season. Soaked it in brandy and set it on fire just to be sure, but it was really OK regardless. Surprised the heck out of me; it's not very sweet, contained a lot of fruit and fat, and it was just loosely covered, at room temp., for an entire year, with no ill effects.

                                                                1. I pulled the (French) nutella out of the fridge this past weekend and chiseled some of the rock hard stuff out of the jar, then decided to actually translate the label: do not refrigerate.

                                                                  I think you should DEFINITELY have some nutella hanging around.

                                                                  1. I think mincemeat can stick around pretty much forever. What about lard and shortening?

                                                                    1. honey is the only thing that will not spoil -- eventually...
                                                                      lard and shorteniing get rancid eventually....

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: alkapal

                                                                        No doubt, but it does take an awfully long time. And what about the mincemeat?

                                                                        1. re: Full tummy

                                                                          as i said, honey is the only thing that won't spoil. thus, mincemeat will. when? i don't have a freakin' clue.

                                                                      2. Natto...actually, how does one know if it IS spoiled? It sits in my fridge, there is no expiration date, it's gooey, slimey and smells like rotten socks. Well I eat it with furukake and rice and so far no ill effects....

                                                                        1. I believe that all foods will either eventually spoil and thus become inedible or will become stale in nature in which case they may have loss of flavor and have other chemical changes that might effect their appearance texture, or consistency but may still be edible. In my opinion it is always best to follow manufacturers recommendations on storage as well as honor those 'date stamps'. Fresher food is always better food.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: crt

                                                                            I have to disagree. There are plenty of foods that taste better when they're old.

                                                                            1. re: Humbucker

                                                                              It was a 'general statement'. I'm aware of the process called 'aging' that involves 'plenty of foods'.

                                                                          2. What about Claussen pickels? I have a jar that was left out overnight- UNREFRIDGERATED but UNOPENED. Do I need to throw it out? Claussen says if left out more than 2 hours- toss it. I wonder if that is more about optmum flavor than spoilage?

                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Tripptales

                                                                              claussen says toss after 2 hours? ridiculous. i'd eat 'em. they'll be flabby but not dangerous.

                                                                              pickle-related…don't waste your money on boar's head brand dill spears. meh.

                                                                                1. re: Tripptales

                                                                                  I wrote and asked vlassic the same question. their reply was that the refrigeration was for 'performance' not food safety (performance? how fast can a pickle accelerate? 0-60 in 36 hours?)

                                                                                  I do wonder if modern commercial pickles maybe do not have the salt content or whatever that traditional pickles have. I am just barely old enough to remember a couple of general stores in the central valley of california (average summer daytime temp of close to 100f) that had old fashioned pickle barrels on the front porch. They were SO good.

                                                                                  1. re: Tripptales

                                                                                    If it's not opened, it's not going to spoil because it was (hopefully) sterile in the factory and it should still be sterile and vacuum-packed now. No air + no bacteria = no spoilage.