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For all you food safety fanatics ...

I was cleaning out my fridge the other day and found a Gladware container with over a quart of homemade turkey stock -- that I made last November. I opened it. It looked good. It smelled good. I knew it had been put in the container hot off the stove and kept in the back of the fridge. I figured, "what the heck" and made soup with it -- I was the only person who was going to eat it, and if I gave myself food poisoning, I was the only one who was going to suffer. I'm pleased to report that I've been eating the resulting soup for several days now with nary an ill effect.

Not to say I'm recommending that people eat homemade stock that's been in the fridge for months, but to point out that a lot of food safety recommendations err on the side of extreme caution, which causes a lot of perfectly good food to go to waste. In these days when food shortages are making headlines, maybe we should think more carefully about just tossing out food.

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  1. Amen. I think we've become a nation of paranoids with regard to food "safety". we routinely throw out perfectly good food, just because it's past the sell-by date or it's been in the fridge for a week.Tell some people that you eat steak tartare, and they'll throw up or pass out. Our ancestors would be astonished and outraged at wha we waste.

    1. ill stick with my cautious approach I learned in professional kitchens, and stay on the safe side, rather than take a cavalier approach to save a few pennies, and possibly get sick. Glad you just used yourself as a guinea pig though.

      13 Replies
      1. re: swsidejim

        It's not about saving *money* it's about saving *food* -- when there are food riots around the world, it's wicked to waste food just because it doesn't meet the "100 percent safe" standard that food safety rules aspire to.

        Yeah, yeah, I know, me not throwing out my turkey stock doesn't make a difference to food shortages in Africa, but I object to the whole philosophy that Americans have that food is something that can just be tossed away cavalierly -- because there's always more where that came from. The way things are going, more and more people are going to find that not to be true.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            I dont have anything in my fridge from Novemeber, not even the box of baking soda. I guess it comes down to using what you make in a timely/safe fassion. If I do throw food away(which is quite rare), or let it expire, or go past it usefullness, I have not done my job running my home kitchen.

            different strokes I guess, I'm just glad no one got sick, and wasted the resources of our strained U.S. medical system, since their are people around the world needing medical care, that would be wicked. ;-)

            1. re: swsidejim

              Seriously nothing from November?

              Not even a jar of mustard?

            2. re: Ruth Lafler

              Re: "me not throwing out my turkey stock doesn't make a difference to food shortages in Africa":

              Actually, it does. That turkey was fed on grain, which is a global commodity. The more food--especially animal-based food--we eat in this country, the greater the demand for grain worldwide. Greater demand leads to higher prices, and higher prices lead to people in the developing world going hungry.

              I've always believed that wasting food was ethically questionable. With the current shortages in Haiti, Mauritania, and elsewhere, it's downright immoral.

            3. re: swsidejim

              Chasserking, you mentioned that you put the broth in when hot. I thought I was told to wait until cool to put things in fridge for safety reasons - is that wrong for you professionals out there?
              Yes, I agree that Americans disgustingly waste food and yes, I am paranoid about food turning and would faint before doing anything on fear factor. I am ashamed of myself.

              1. re: Pappardelle

                you are correct, stock should never go from stove top to fridge, it needs to be cooled first, preferably in an ice bath to quickly get it out of the danger zone.

                1. re: Pappardelle

                  I put hot things in my refrigerator all the time. I just don't set a container of hot soup on top of a big block of feta cheese waiting to be turned into tiropita. That would be serious cheese abuse!

                  The "rule" about cooling things down before putting them into the "ice box" came about exactly then: When people really did use ice boxes. Hot food would up the interior temperature of the cooling chambers, pass through to the ice chamber and melt the ice faster.

                  In today's world, our refrigerators are mechanically cooled with fan circulated air. There's a lot more risk to your health from letting hot things sit out and cool to room temperature before refrigerating than there is danger of blowing up your refrigerator's mechanics by putting hot food in it. The added advantage is that it will take the temperature down more quickly, getting food out of the "germ nursery" temperatures much much much quicker than sitting out.

                  It ain't rocket science! '-)

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Well...I did recently read an interesting article (in Cooks?) that showed that by putting big hot items into the fridge to cool, it often increased the temperature of the refrigerator, sometimes to unsafe levels for some foods. Moreover, they discovered that the time saved in terms of cooling an item in the fridge as compared to on the counter was not enough to justify raising the overall temperature of the refrigerator and moving already well-cooled items into the 'danger' zone.

                    That being said, I put hot things in the refrigerator all of the time.

                    1. re: Cachetes

                      LOL! Doncha love these "research" projects? What did they do? Put a five gallon pot of soup in their test refrigerator and disconnect the fan? Thanks for sharing. And I'll try to remember to throw some ice cubes into the next five gallon pot I refrigerate. '-)

                      Truth is I put stuff in the fridge hot because if I don't, I'm very likely to find them still on thre stove the next morning! Out of sight out of...

                      1. re: Cachetes

                        Cachetes and Jim are correct-- putting large amounts of hot stock etc directly into the fridge is problematic because the temp of the stock can hang in the temperature danger zone long enough to potentially grow harmful bacteria-- and it can also raise the temp of the whole fridge so that other food can also be affected. restaurants have to take special care of hot foods, especially stocks and soups, to cool them quickly before refrigerating to finish the job.

                        that said, Caroline's right too--does every home cook need to san jamar two quarts of soup before refrigerating?-- nope :) and i, too, put small amounts of hot foods in the fridge at home all the time. a few useful commonsense guidelines can reduce risks--
                        1)if you have to move a shelf in most home refrigerators to put a hot item in, it's too big to put in a home fridge hot-- this endangers the rest of the food.
                        2)if it's steaming, don't put it in the fridge, let it cool at room temp until it's no longer steaming before refrigerating it further
                        3) whenever possible, break up a large, hot item, and try to increase the surface area so that it will cool faster and there won't be an area in the middle of a thick mass of food that stays warm too long. for example think about cutting a large roast into pieces to cool faster. instead of storing a large batch of soup, stew or chowder in one big dense mass in your biggest tupperware, split it into 3 or more flat rectangular containers, next to each other rather than stacked, with space for air to circulate around. stir soups and stews an hour into refrigeration to help cool them.

                        if you specifically want to use a stock that's been refrigerated, and it looks and smells good, but it's a little old (i mean a week old :) not november old), you can use the stock safely if you bring it to a boil and *keep it at a boil for 20 minutes* before you use it in a recipe. taste the stock after it has been boiled to make sure it doesn't taste spoiled.

                        i don't mean to be too preachy--i'm all for reducing food waste, but nothing's worth risking people's health, & sometimes you just have to toss stuff. good discussion.

                        1. re: soupkitten

                          Good tips. One other thing I'd suggest to cool food quickly is fill the sink with cold water (add ice if you have it). Plunge the pot into the water. Obviously, don't let the water get into the pot. If the water goes too warm, drain and replenish. Works well when you're in a hurry.

                          1. re: Kagey

                            yes that is a great, effective tip too! :)

                2. indeed. i eat anything that looks/smells/tastes edible. hasn't killed me yet!

                  1. Ruth, thanks for this post, I was beginning to think I had really abnormal tolerance for stuff I had left in the fridge. There are many things I have eaten out of the fridge that would horrify a lot of food safety fanatics. I won't serve them to others, but I am willing to give them a try!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: moh

                      I'm the exact same way, though I will serve them to my husband.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        (sheepish grin)

                        Did I tell you I married a canary in a coal mine? He hasn't keeled over yet!

                      2. re: moh

                        When I was in college I would come home (to my parent's house) from school and gorge myself on whatever was in the fridge. Several times my parents were horrified to find that I had eaten food that was earmarked (incidentally, it was in an unmarked container) for the dog. Finally they started putting it in an old Cool Whip container marked with a magic marker that it was for the dog.
                        Point of the story: I never got sick and I earned the nickname "Iron Gut".
                        To this day I will generally eat things well past their "expiration" date.

                        The jelly I made my PB&J with just last night was probably at least one year but most likely a couple of years old.

                        If it smells ok and it isn't green and hairy I'll eat it. If it is cheese and it's green and hairy I'll probably cut that off and still eat it. That's how I roll.

                      3. great post ! I always seem to find an extra Fage yogurt in the back of the fridge, long, long past its expiration date. Never had a problem.