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For all you food safety fanatics ...

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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

          Well said, Ruth. Thank you.

          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.

                        1. while i'm not sure i'd mess around with anything meat-based...i'm kind of glad to at least see a few people who aren't of the opinion that stuff needs to be tossed out the minute it hits the sell by date ( as if at 12:01 it instantly deteriorates).

                          I hate to see people wasting food this way (btw i think it's equally wasteful to stuff it all down because it's not going to be eaten by anyone else), and I don't think an item being eaten one or two days past it's date, will typically hurt anyone, unless maybe we're talking raw supermarket meat or something.

                          Some of my coworkers are notorious tossers, and i'm amazed at what they waste and throw out. One of them prides herself on throwing out anything remotely close to it's expiry date, never mind past it. It's sad.

                          Then again, i do drink a lot of red wine ;)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: im_nomad

                            Some of my co workers won't eat any leftover that they didn't finish the day before when it was new. But I will! I have had some great food that they won't eat and are ready to toss it when I intercept. I also hate waste and pride myself on using everything possible. Just how many meals can you get out of one chicken!

                          2. My S/O enlightened me about how long food lasts. I'm less likely to throw things out after 2-3 days or one week maximum. He once kept a baked chicken in the fridge for about two weeks ... though I left that for him to finish.

                            I actually think he prefers stale baked goods. Sometimes I can't stand it though and insist that he eat something NOW ... NOW ... it won't taste the same tommorrow or a week from NOW. Was also surprised to see how long tortillas last. I'm beginning to think there is no expiration on those.

                            I still have my limits where things start to bother me if they sit around too long. This last batch of pan dulce was torture since it took him two weeks to go through it ... if I could only convince him to freeze stuff ... but nooooo. The block of longhorn supermarket cheese that has been in the fridge since Chirstmas is starting to irk me.

                            Now that turkey soup ... I would have tossed it ... but maybe I could consider sniffing it to see if it turned yet ... or I can use the dogs next door as my tasters. Wow ... November ... glad you are still here. Something to be thankful for, eh?

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: rworange

                              About the tortillas -- there is a limit on how long you can store them. I forgot about some tortillas I had in the fridge -- they were there for a few months. And they became the new habitat for a nice mold.

                              I try to look in the fridge before I do my grocery shopping on the weekends to evaluate what I have, what I need to finish and what I need to buy. I find that it really helps me not to waste food.

                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                I too have had mold on tortillas, but they do have to be around a loonnnggg time for that to happen, at least in my experience.....

                              2. re: rworange

                                Why is a block of cheese bugging you? The whole point of cheese (besides the fact that it tastes good) is that it's a way of preserving milk. Cheddar cheese is aged, for dog's sake -- the longer the better. And it's aged at temps that are actually warmer than your fridge.

                                It's kind of sad, really, that many people (not picking on you, rw) don't understand food safety. They don't understand that many foods we eat exist because they were ways of preserving foods long before there was refrigeration. Because of lawsuits (people who don't use common sense about consuming something in a reasonable amount of time) and government regulations, lots of things say "refrigerate after opening" that really don't need to be refrigerated.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  I am with you as far as being irked by things hanging around in the fridge too long. I am someone who plans and eats until everything is gone before I go to the grocery to replenish. My new husband likes and appreciates this, but he is also someone who likes to eat little bits of several different things rather than finishing anything off immediately. Right now we have the remainder of some hummus I made, part of a batch of tuna salad, chicken salad, and several odds and ends of baked goods in the fridge. They range in age from 1-8 days old. Generally I would only have like one thing of leftovers going in the fridge and finish that off before making anything else, but the hubs requests something new before finishing off the old. I have tried several times to discreetly toss leftovers when only a smidge of something remains in the container, but he notices.
                                  A conversations from last week.
                                  Hub:(hollered from the kitchen) Hey babe, where's the black bean dip from last week?
                                  Me: You mean the tablespoon that was left in the gladware?
                                  Hub: Yea, you eat it?
                                  Me: Nope I tossed it.
                                  Hub: But I was going to eat it.
                                  Me: Babe, there are like 3 other dips in there, I made you fresh muffins, and I am cooking dinner as we speak.
                                  Hub: Yea... it's just I was thinking about eating that when I got home today while I was at work. I guess.....let me know when dinners done. (then I receive a dejected half-hearted peck as he mopes out of the kitchen)
                                  I guess it is just one of those adjustments I am going to have to make as a newlywed. It takes time to fridge OCD on a leash though.

                                  1. re: ArikaDawn

                                    That was funny! Seriously though, be thankful that you hubby will eat leftovers. I know a lot that won't and want a fresh meal every night. If I can get my husband to eat leftovers more then one night, that is good. Luckily, he doesn't expect me to cook at night and eats a big late lunch at work so will fend for himself if I don't cook. He's a prince!

                                    1. re: jodymaryk

                                      My hubby doesn't care for most leftovers so when I buy meat I usually cut it in half and that makes just enough for the 2 of us. Certain foods like jambalaya he will eat leftovers, Chili and beef stew and hungarian ghoulash and occasionally leftover cold chicken. I try to buy the smallest items when I know that they won't be used often like eggs. I usually buy the 6 egg container and I also have egg substitute also. I bake my own bread and rolls much cheaper and tastes way better than storebought. I rarely buy veggies till the farmers market opens up. This year tho we are planting our own just the things we eat.

                                    2. re: ArikaDawn

                                      Sounds like your husband is like me, in that I like to save small portions "for a later time" in the fridge/freezer too. I think people like that tend to get taste fatigue more often, and they need more variety, in smaller portions, to get the same stimulation in food. To me, it's like a treat when you have in the fridge what you feel like eating at the moment, without having to make it all over again. Of course that often means you have to bear with food that is past their prime, but that's okay ;)

                                      Great discussion!

                                  2. I must say I am not an adherent to the "best by" dates, and despite pretty rigid prep protocal, I can certainly feel safe with the sniff-and-boil approach.

                                    Most of the food we throw out is not rotten or dangerous, IMO. It just isn't perky and ready for a screen test. Each needs to decide what works, but perhaps some will decide that good front-end sanitation leads to longer lived storage. My experience, personally.

                                    Cay

                                    1. just be careful with the exception to the sniff test.....botulism has no smell.........

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: im_nomad

                                        im nomad, can you speak more about the botulism issue? I get that botulism has no smell, but aren't we talking ( correct me, please, if I'm wrong) mostly about airless situations, if we're talking botulism? Isn't that the condition in which botulism thrives? Most of our storage situations are not airless. Home canners, yes, do need to be aware of such things. But stuff in the fridge (unless it's long stored garlic in oil, maybe)?

                                        So curious,
                                        Cay

                                        1. re: cayjohan

                                          Here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botulism are some facts about botulism. It is not the typical "food poisoning" that you would likely to get at home, from spoiled or improperly handled food. It is a very rare bacterium which, under a certain specific set of conditions, will form a toxin that can be fatal. It requires a complete lack of oxygen to develop - something that I wouldn't even find in my own, slovenly and overstuffed fridge. You would never, for instance, get botulism poisoning from eating a three-week-old chicken wing - not even one that has been sitting on the kitchen counter in a heat wave. From that you can get something else, but not botulism.

                                          Ecoli comes from improperly cooked meat or anything that has been in contact with ecoli bacteria which live in the intestinal tract of animals. So therefore contaminated water can be a carrier to spread it to vegetables. It also crops up in raw hamburger (therefore the well-done-burger caution). And salmonella is common in poultry. Also can show up in or on eggs. So no chicken sushi and avoid raw eggs (although I don't, to be honest). There's also listeria and a host of other miscellaneous bugs that can give us grief.

                                          I'm not a biologist, so I can't give the full rundown on food poisons, but these are some of the biggies I do know something about. Each one is carried in a very specific way so don't lump all food-borne illness together. Most can be avoided by common sense precautions and reasonable household hygiene. I am absolutely not a clean freak, refuse to use anti-bacterial products in my home, enjoy a medium-rare burger now and then and have never given up my wooden cutting boards yet no one has, to my knowledge, ever gotten sick from food eaten in my house.

                                          If we are feeding people, I believe it is our responsibility to learn how to do it safely but that doesn't mean you just blindly throw out bread (or milk or cheese or jam) when it's past its government-decreed best-by date. That's just wasteful and foolish.

                                          1. re: Nyleve

                                            thanks for the wiki, Nyleve!

                                            Cay

                                          2. re: cayjohan

                                            sorry, i should have been more specific....i was just talking generally about the "sniff test"...not necessarily just stuff in the fridge.

                                            1. re: im_nomad

                                              I would love if you or anyone else can elaborate. My general rule is that if it has mold on it or it smells funny or is way past the due date I throw it out. Part of why I feel ok doing that is tha tI have a pretty sensitive sense of smell and things smell "off" to me before they smell off to my husband. But what kind of dangers--besides botulism which is irrelevant to the question of whether to discard old stuff in the fridge---cannot be smelled?

                                              1. re: Produce Addict

                                                I happened upon this while looking for something else
                                                http://www.healthatoz.com/healthatoz/...

                                                A quote from same: "Unlike spoilage bacteria that makes food foul-smelling, off-color or slimy, pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria do not affect the appearance, smell or taste of food."

                                                1. re: im_nomad

                                                  Whether or not you can smell bacteria that cause food poisoning is kind of besides the point to the conversation about when to throw food that is past its expiration date out. That quote makes clear that at least when talking about spoiled food, it *is* safe to use your nose, as if the food has gone bad, it *will* smell foul, be off-color or slimy.

                                                  If a food has a pathogenic bacteria, it could be super fresh and it will still make you sick -- so that fact that it doesn't have a smell really doesn't have relevance to determining when/whether food has spoiled and should be thrown away (unless there is some evidence that the older food is, the more likely it is to have somehow acquired a pathogenic bacteria).

                                                  1. re: DanaB

                                                    DanaB is correct. Spoiled is one thing - if it smells "off" or has a creepy texture or just somehow doesn't seem right, it may be spoiled and you should toss it.

                                                    However, if it has been contaminated by, say, e coli or hepatitis or norwalk virus or some other disease-causing organism, you will not be able to tell just by smelling or looking. Take, for example, the big spinach scare about a year or so ago. The spinach was fresh, tasty and well within the supposed safe dates for sale and consumption. But it had been contaminated by e coli in groundwater and so it turned out to be toxic. You'd never in a million years have any way of knowing this. Same thing goes for lettuce in, say, Mexico. It looks fine, tastes fine but it could very well make you quite ill.

                                                    Frankly, I really can't get too worked up about all this stuff. You take reasonable precautions when you eat, avoid obvious stupidity in terms of food storage and household sanitation, and the rest is history. You get sick, you get sick. I don't mean to minimize the very serious nature of certain kinds of food-borne illness, but I'm certainly not going to spend my life worrying about it. We do have a pretty safe food supply in North America.

                                        2. I'm not a food safety fanatic and will consume stuff that others may think unwise, but this is simply an irresponsible thing to encourage people to do. You got lucky. Maybe it was frozen at the back of the refrigerator for some of the time it was in there. Maybe you hit on a lucky combination of boiling it and sealing it such that it was preserved in the same fashion as canning. The bottom line is that the way to not waste food is to handle it properly (like, oh, say freeze the soup stock), not to take chances with your health and parade the notion that eating something which is months old probably won't kill you and is admirable as a means of "saving food". Also, turkey stock...turkey water? It's not even really "food" that you're saving as the nutritive value is extremely low.

                                          How much would you have saved in resources and money if you'd gotten violently ill and needed medical attention?

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Orchid64

                                            I don't think Ruth is promoting this behavior. In fact, she writes "not to say I'm recommending that people eat homemade stock in the fridge for months ..." She's just telling a story of what her experience was. We're all adults who can make up our own mind as to what our comfort level is. And even though she's still here to tell this story, I don't think I would have done what she did, in spite of the lack of smell. Ruth, you're a lot braver than I am.

                                          2. ruth--I find broths last much longer with a cap of fat on top. Must 'seal' it from organisms, so some such function. So instead of defatting my turkey or chicken or pork broth, it goes, cooled, into the fridge.

                                            I've taken to freezing broth from leftover carcasses or bones in 1 cup plastic lidded to-go containers. They stack easily and I just mark a C or B or P on the lid. Then I've got my own broth for recipes, richer and cheaper than store-bought, to use whenever some is called for.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: toodie jane

                                              That's true -- the fat is basically an air-tight seal. This broth had some fat on top, but not enough to form a seal. I was really surprised -- I had expected it to have soured.

                                              And no, I'm definitely not saying people should do what I did. I was just using this as an extreme example of how many foods can be safe much longer than people think they would be.

                                            2. The other alternative to throwing food out is to compost it. Not practical for everybody, I realize, but a way of putting spoiled food to some use. Or agitate for a composting program in your area.

                                              1. Good going. I'm not afraid of consuming the likes of a home made November stock (although mine is normally frozen) simply because care in preparation and a good refrigerator decrease the likelihood of food pathogens. I wouldn't eat anything produced and stored in a restaurant kitchen after any significant period, however.

                                                And as everyone knows, I am really against food waste. Northern countries waste enough to feed the world's poor.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                  Sadly, I have a few pounds of food waist that I can't seem to even give away.

                                                  As to wasting food, It's FUN to be as creative as possible with storage techniques, menu planning, and inventory procedures. Zero waste is the goal.

                                                  Final processing via compost is possible to every person who has a free-standing house, no matter how small the volume of scrap material. For apartment dwellers, earthworm composting can yield beautiful potting soil for your indoor plants. http://www.cityfarmer.org/wormcomp61.... and etc.

                                                  A layer of fat DOES protect a broth. My recent ancestors would precook the pork sausage at fall butchering time, and place in crocks, poured over and filled with hot fat. Each time some meat was removed, fat was reheated and all voids in the crock were filled. Think confit.

                                                  1. re: FoodFuser

                                                    I want to be one more person to add to the Fat Seals brigade. I remember readina story some time back about a guy who left a sirloin steak marinating in Buttermilk for THIRTEEN YEARS!

                                                    After taking the steak out, it did not have one sign of decay on it. It should be noted that this was old-fashioned buttermilk, the kind that is a by-product of churning butter.

                                                2. A caveat....one thing you never want to experience is food poisoning..take my word for it....
                                                  I have varying rules I followi depending on what type of food....
                                                  Meats and Seafood I TAKE NO CHANCES WITH..if in doubt out it goes

                                                  1. I think that the problem is that we have lost the ability to actually discern for ourselves whether the food in question is spoiled or not. We have become so conservative that we throw things out long before they have actually become unsafe, so we no longer have the first-hand experience of exactly what a spoiled hunk of cheese or meat tastes/smells like. Very few spoiled foods will really make you ill to eat. It's usually the sneaky cross-contamination of cooked/uncooked foods that causes food illness - but the food itself is not usually the problem. Even spoiled raw meat juices would, under normal circumstances, be cooked to harmlessness if the food has been handled properly. But if you let the uncooked juice contaminate your salad - which will not be cooked - that's were you get the problem.

                                                    Of course, if you leave a container of yogurt in a cooler without ice for 2 days during a heat wave, you can end up spending a lot of unexpected time in the bathroom, as my husband learned. Any normal person would have known that you shouldn't eat something like that.

                                                    So I think that the lessons here are to be careful with your food preparation, and learn to personally recognize when food has gone bad. I got really angry at a local shop that dumped a big box of cheese - chunks that were vacuum sealed in plastic, even - because it had been left unrefrigerated for 6 hours. What a stupid stupid waste. I know they were probably following health department regulations, but I would have taken that cheese home to use myself at the very least.

                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: Nyleve

                                                      Good points. I know the only time I had real food poisoning was from something that I suspected at the time was no good. It was sort of the reverse situation: I let the fact that I had just purchased it convince me that it was okay and was supposed to taste that way (it was a cream-cheese based dip). I wish I'd paid more attention to my instincts!

                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                        Yeah - my husband and the yogurt. I packed him a cooler full of food for a two day exhibition he was attending one summer. He let the ice melt and didn't replenish. Then, days later, ate the yogurt. He explained later, between visits to the washroom, that he thought yogurt was good without refrigeration. I mean, really. This is an intelligent, educated man. Ask me how sympathetic I was.

                                                        1. re: Nyleve

                                                          To some extent yogurt is good without refrigeration: it's another ancient food, and I think the good bacteria keep the bad bacteria down. But I'd be leary of yogurt that had been kept in a hot cooler, especially if it wasn't sealed and had possibly been cross-contaminated by a spoon.

                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                            maybe one of the contributors to bad-yogurt situations is that too many "yogurts" out there don't really resemble yogurt in it's true sense, and have ingredients such as gelatin and such. who knows....

                                                            1. re: im_nomad

                                                              Despite the protective qualities of yogurt bacteria, there does appear to be some pretty definite limits to this protection. I think the yogurt in question was probably one of those single-serving fruity pseudo-yogurt concoctions, but I suspect that any yogurt left in a steamy cooler would have turned toxic just the same. Just take my word for it - you really don't want the firsthand experience.

                                                              My husband's other close encounter with toxic food - once again, self-inflicted - was when he went camping. In the cooler was a pound of bacon and some fruit, along with everything else. After 5 days out on the lake, with no way of replenishing cooler ice, he ate an apple (without washing it) that had been rolling around in festering bacon juice. I mean, honestly. What did he think was going to happen? Not to go into specific detail here but remember - he was camping. In the wilderness. No bathrooms. I laughed and laughed.

                                                    2. Good Post, Ruth, I work in an office and once a month the frig gets cleaned and the amount of food that is thown out is a sin and a shame. People will throw away perfectly good food just because of the "sell-by-date". As my grandmother used to say, "we are going to want that food, one day". We should use our noses and eyes and determine for ourselves. After all the quicker you throw it away, the quicker you will need to BUY MORE$$$$$$

                                                      11 Replies
                                                      1. re: kpaumer

                                                        Kpaumer, this happens in my office too, and it makes me crazy.
                                                        It's funny that this thread popped up just now- a few days ago on 4/21 I was visiting a friend while she and her husband were preparing dinner. She took 2 bags of hamburger rolls out of the fridge and looked at the dates. One bag had the sell-by of 4/19, and one had 4/22. She tossed the 4/19 bag without even checking to see if it was edible, 2 days after the sell-by date. I was kind of horrified.

                                                        1. re: marmite

                                                          i have a friend like that...but yet she still defrosts her meat out on the kitchen counter.

                                                          1. re: im_nomad

                                                            I don't think a lot of the "date checkers" even think through the safety aspect of the actual food. The date is past, it must be bad. No thought to things like raw eggs or room temperature meat. I used to work with a woman who would purge our "snack area" by 3pm and toss the remaining donuts/pastries/bagels in a box bought fresh that morning. It got so we would grab the box and hide it before she could trash it. The waste was pathetic.

                                                            1. re: PrincessBakesALot

                                                              I hate waste, but I can sort of understand this behavior in the context of an office, where a lot of people are using the same small break area and inevitably there are people who leave their stuff out for days or weeks unless someone else cleans it up. The fridge at my old workplace used to be crammed with 3-month-old takeout containers that people had forgotten about, to the point that I couldn't find a place to put my lunch. Sometimes I got fed up and pitched stuff that had obviously been forgotten.

                                                              1. re: jlafler

                                                                Our office fridge gets cleaned the first Friday of the month -- anything that isn't labeled with a name and recent date gets tossed.

                                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                  Theoretically, that's the way it worked in my office, too. People were also supposed to wash their own dishes. The cleaning staff was supposed to run the dishwasher every evening. But if there hadn't been people who took these tasks on themselves, out of frustration, none of it would have gotten done regularly.

                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                    I don't work in a communal office anymore, but when I did, the fridge policy was strict -- it was purged EVERY Friday, 1 hour before close-of-business. That meant that if you have a precious piece of Tupperware that you wanted to take home, take it back to your cubicle after lunch on Friday, or kiss it goodbye. The policy was set and administered by our anal-retentive Office Manager, and few had the courage to challenge her. I suspect SHE had a nice set of plastic containers at home thanks to some folks' forgetfulness, but no one questioned it.

                                                                    1. re: Cheflambo

                                                                      This does sound draconian, but the flip side is an office fridge that's so stuffed with forgotten containers of leftovers from various lunch expeditions that you can't use it. Believe me, I've been there! So the issue with your office manager may not have been food safety so much as keeping the fridge neat and accessible. When I pitched things from the office fridge, it wasn't because I was worried that someone might eat them and get sick, it was because I knew nobody would ever eat them, and they were just taking up space.

                                                                  2. re: jlafler

                                                                    Unfortunatly there seems to be no consistancy in this kind of stuff.....things that look "weird" are often tossed, while that pre-cooked bacon stuff will stay in the refridgerator for months and no one touches it. I've had the experience a couple of times when i went to look for a salad dressing or tortillas in the fridge only to find it tossed out on me. I regularly purchase soymeats before their date, and freeze and thaw them WELL after the sell by, ...anyone looking in the fridge would assume it's "bad" and toss it...when in reality i may have only defrosted it that morning.

                                                                    The same inconsistancies seem to happen at the office, in the similar manner people use at home. I can't tell you how many people i work with who are fridge tossers, who keep their loaves of bread on top of the fridge, where the heat makes it go moldy in no time flat. They load a section of the fridge up with perishables so they can make sandwiches at work, and then live off take out for two weeks. It's almost as if they WANT to throw food away, not preserve it.

                                                                    I've noticed that some of these people, tend to be wasters in general.

                                                            2. re: kpaumer

                                                              I have people like this in my office too... I was raised not to waste stuff like that. I actually had someone screw their nose up at me and look at me aghast when i took a piece of older bread out of the fridge, toasted it and ate it, because it was past the sell by date....Not a speck of mold on it, it wasn't fantastic, but it was certainly edible.

                                                              Oddly one of such individuals at work had no qualms about bringing us all in a dessert one day with raw eggs in it.

                                                              1. re: im_nomad

                                                                That reminds me, I love all things batter. Cookie dough, cake batter, pie filling, it doesn't matter. I will lick the spatula/beater/bowl clean. My husband won't touch the stuff b/c of the egg, which is fine by me (then I don't have to worry about sharing). I have not yet told him that his favorite pie, french silk, has raw egg in it.

                                                            3. As a card-carrying member of the Sniff-then-Decide eater group, this thread propelled me into the kitchen to check my refrigerator.
                                                              Disclaimer: I rarely throw things away and will absolutely taste test first.
                                                              Today is April 28, 08, this morning's breakfast: Tropicana Grovestand Orange Juice sell by date: April 07, 08, sell by date on buttermilk used for pancakes: March 30, 08. The eggs were from the Farmers' Market last week and probably good for another month. The Vermont Maple Syrup has no designation but I know it is ready for Social Security. When sugar crystals accumulate, I simply boil it for a couple of minutes and re-refrigerate it. DH and I are both alive & kicking with absolutely no ill effects from this ole stuff. I keep my refrigerator at 38 degrees F and give the evil eye to anyone who stands in front of it, door open, taking a tour.

                                                              In the US, I think the Nervous Nellie Nutritionists have joined forces with the Scared Straight Food Police to create a nation of paranoid consumers who are terrified to trust themselves and their own instincts. How much easier it is to learn nothing and simply read a date, tossing perfectly good food in the garbage because some GS-1 CYA wrote an arbitrary number on a container.

                                                              I'm a Food Historian and give give chapter and verse on interesting methods of preservation through the centuries.
                                                              EX: restaurants have discovered Confit and have been selling it like crazy, as though this is a marvelous new creation. Peasants in the south of France would be tickled to know that they're trendsetters as they follow the practices of their ancestors in the days of pre-refrigeration.

                                                              With the exception of home canned goods, which do carry a very real possibility of undetectable danger, most food that has gone south will let you know. Look at it - if the beef is green, toss it. Smell it - if your dog would appreciate this stinky mess, toss it. Otherwise, it makes good sense to teach yourself to recognize OK from marginally OK to putrid and not OK. The example of tossing hamburger buns two days past their sell by date makes me shake my head in disbelief. Why? Doesn't the "tosser" know that sell by is not meant to indicate that the food is poison after that day. Sheeeesh!

                                                              25 Replies
                                                              1. re: Sherri

                                                                Doesn't the "tosser" know that sell by is not meant to indicate that the food is poison after that day.

                                                                Good point. I've always assumed that the sell-by date is exactly that - SELL by, not necessarily eat-by. I figured it had a couple days cushion built-in, or more, depending on what kind of stuff it is, since not everyone's going to eat something the same day they buy it. This is just an assumption, though, and I've never done any research on it; anybody know what the sell-by date is supposed to mean?

                                                                1. re: Bat Guano

                                                                  When I asked specifically about dairy, my supermarket manager told me that they expect the product to be good for at least one week past the sell by date. I will continue to use "the sniff test" because some dairy will last for a very long time. Cryovaced meat meat has a much longer life even though the sell by date may be next week. Of course how the product was originally handled and is currently stored makes a large difference in the overall life.

                                                                  1. re: Sherri

                                                                    Yes, I've had things at were previously unopened go bad before the sell by date. I'll bet it's because of improper handling at the store.

                                                                    It is funny how some people use an arbitrary date to judge whether something is fit to eat or not. My ex would throw away things because they were a couple of days before the expiration date -- didn't want "to take a chance." I like to look at it and sniff it before I throw something away. However, I do think we also need to use some common sense here as well. Eg. -- no matter how good milk looks, if it's been in the fridge for 6 months, I won't drink it.

                                                                    1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                      ditto....i've had soy milk go into solids well before the sell-by date. the sniff test with soy milk is pretty much useless........it smells fine it seems, even when it goes solid.

                                                                      1. re: im_nomad

                                                                        Yeah, I've also had that happen frequently with my soy milk as well. And I'm not talking about those fresher ones you get at the Chinese stores but those packaged more processed ones like Eden or Silk.

                                                                        1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                          that's because the date on the package is the "open by" date. If you read the package it says that once open it lasts only 7-10 days (or something like that).

                                                                          1. re: Produce Addict

                                                                            Not sure which one of my posts you were responding to, but I've had things go bad before I've ever opened them, even though I've opened them before the "open by" date. If you were responding to my soy milk post, they have only gone bad after I have opened them but before the 7-10 days after opening.

                                                                            1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                              I have literally opened, poured and found it to already have gone solid days before the "open by" date you refer to produce addict...not a day or so after opening. On the flipside of that, i've managed to keep lots of soy milks past their dates even after opening.

                                                                              I just think soymilk is quirky that way.

                                                                              1. re: im_nomad

                                                                                Wow, it almost sounds like you guys are making tofu in your soymilk containers...

                                                                                1. re: im_nomad

                                                                                  I have them go chunky on me too, from time to time, on opening even before the expiry date (and I have the experience the other way round a lot too.)

                                                                                  When that happens, I simply write to the manufacturer, where they reassure me it only happens once in a while and send me some coupons.

                                                                    2. re: Bat Guano

                                                                      Sherri's right that one week is generally accepted to be the rule for "sell by" dates, but the fact is that package dating isn't standardized: the dates could mean just about anything. Not to mention there are several different kinds of dates: "sell by," "use or freeze by," "expiration" (which doesn't seem to mean anything) and my favorite, "best before," which often seems to mean "this will last until the next ice age, but we have to put a date on it, so here it is, and don't blame us if you open it three years from now and the quality has deteriorated."

                                                                      In addition, the date doesn't reflect how the product has been handled and stored after leaving the producer. A product that's been handled incorrectly could still be bad before the date, and one that's been handled and stored carefully could be good for long after it. I live in the temperate Bay Area, and a lot of things last longer because they're not being exposed to hot/humid conditions.

                                                                      And finally, part of the problem is semantic: when people talk about something being "good" they could be referring to the product's safety, but they could also be referring to its quality. Lots of chowhounds are very picky about the pristine quality of their foodstuffs, and I often see people recommending that food be stored in a certain way or consumed in a certain time period based not on safety (will it make you sick) but on preservation of quality (will it still be as delicious as it was when it was purchased).

                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                        I hate wasting food and definitely employ common sense rather than "sell by dates." My husband loves to use the surprise "creme fraiche" he often discovers in week-old heavy cream containers in our fridge. A pot of stew left covered on the stove overnight is still good in our book. We've never suffered ill effects.

                                                                        I do, however, throw out freezer burned items. I know there's not likely anything in there to make us ill, but I'm loathe to try to revive those items (breads, veggies, meats) left to crystalize in the freezer. Am I wrong to dispose of these things? Can they be saved?

                                                                        1. re: GSM

                                                                          We have chickens so nothing goes to waste! Highly recommended indiscriminate recyclers, they are. And everything you feed them turns into eggs! Fantastic.

                                                                          I feed them anything except, well, chicken. Although to be frank, they would happily eat that too.

                                                                          1. re: Nyleve

                                                                            I have a guy who lives in my backyard shed (finished, heat and light, internet connection) who does odd jobs for me and I give him a few bucks now and then, but basically, he lives off scavenging (he picks up stuff people have thrown away, maybe fixes it/cleans it up and sells it on craigslist). He also gets food from stores that are dumping it because it's past the sell by date -- he uses some himself and he also takes some out for some of the hardcore homeless in the parks. Last night he brought me a cryovac pre-marinated boneless leg of lamb (from Trader Joe's) that was dated a couple of days ago -- I had no qualms about putting it in the oven and roasting it up. It was delicious!

                                                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                              This post reminds me of Freegans, the group of people who practice minimal consumption and choose to have limited participation in the economy. Oprah had a show that featured people who consider themselves to be Freegans sometime within the last few months. It was amazing how many "good" items were found in the trash bins outside of grocery stores. That show was eye-opening in terms of how much waste our society creates.

                                                                              1. re: amy_rc

                                                                                I heard a radio interview with one of these Freegans the other day. He was going through the contents of his fridge - tons of good meat, vegetables, cheese. Lots of bread, basically anything and everything. It sounds like he eats better than most people do who shop for food. I found it absolutely fascinating to listen.

                                                                                1. re: Nyleve

                                                                                  Yeah, I agree that the Freegan movement is fascinating. Personally, I can't see myself doing it. But kudos to those trying to limit waste in this country.

                                                                                2. re: amy_rc

                                                                                  When I was a starving college student I used to go dumpster diving with friends. We would find perfectly good bread, fruit and vegetables..and I had no qualms about eating it if it wasn't obviously spoiled and still looked good.

                                                                                  1. re: janetofreno

                                                                                    i don't like to waste food.....but i can honestly say my "starving student" days thankfully never reached a time when i'd think foraging through garbage was an acceptable meal option......a jar of PB and bread at the discount store..surely was something people could chip in for.

                                                                                    1. re: im_nomad

                                                                                      I have no problem with dumpster diving for food. As janetofreno said, if it wasn't spoiled why shouldn't it be eatten? Frankly, the amount of perfectly good food that gets tossed from grocery stores is obscene given the number of hungry people in the average city.

                                                                                3. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                  Ruth, after reading the first sentence of this comment, I really thought you were going to say that you give him your scraps! Especially after the "we have chickens" comment right above.

                                                                                  1. re: JasmineG

                                                                                    LOL. No, I would consider that degrading, although I do share something I've made or buy him a treat from time to time. He's a good example, though, of how the less people have, the more generous they are -- he does more to help people who are less fortunate than he than most people I know, especially given the fact that he doesn't have much to begin with.

                                                                                    I'll have to tell him he's a "Freegan" -- he'll get a kick out of that. I emailed him their site: in good Freegan fashion, he has a scavenged computer, is piggy backed onto my network, and has a free yahoo account. :-)

                                                                                4. re: Nyleve

                                                                                  Dogs are good recyclers, too. I've even taken to feeding them chicken carcasses that have been pressure-cooked for stock. Mixed up with leftover rice (the bones disintegrate because of the pressure cooking) it's a healthy and tasty treat for them.

                                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                    Yeah, my dog eats pretty well. But dogs are scavengers -- their bodies are adapted to eat food that's "spoiled" by human standards. Among other things, because their digestive tract is much shorter than a human's, bacteria doesn't have time to fester and multiply in their gut to a level that they'll become ill, so they're much less susceptible to salmonella, etc. than humans. That is, unless you've ruined their digestion by feeding them the same kibble day after day for years, the way the dog food companies want you to.

                                                                                5. re: GSM

                                                                                  To avoid freezer burn, you might buy one of those $10 Reynold's vacuum sealers. They don't have the tightest seal like the pricy systems, but they take out and keep out enough air to keep freezer burn and ice crystals away. For bread freeze it first and use the vacuum sealer so that you don't squish the bread.

                                                                                  Don't have any solutions for stuff that already has freezer burn.

                                                                          2. What a great post. Just today I found a little container of red Thai curry paste that I made about a month ago in the back of the fridge. It looks and smells fine. I was trying to decide whether to risk it and make curry tonight.

                                                                            I've also got a quart of homemade chicken stock in the fridge that I made about a week ago...

                                                                            I agree that it's wicked to waste food, which is why I buy a whole chicken, then eat it, then use the carcass to make stock. But we all fall victim to bad planning now and then.

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Kagey

                                                                              I wouldn't worry about something like curry paste at all -- enjoy your curry!

                                                                              I agree about the bad planning -- I don't like to waste food, but sometimes things fall through the cracks (or get pushed to the back of the fridge).

                                                                              1. re: Kagey

                                                                                on the curry paste, i agree with Ruth. i wouldn't hesitate to use it if it looks and smells fine. remember that all of the spices and aromatics now associated with "curries" were originally used because they preserved meats and other foods in hot temperatures. i use a commercial but preservative-free, all natural curry paste and ime it just doesn't go bad in the fridge.

                                                                                i'd boil the stock 20 minutes, and if it tastes fine, i'd use it-- with the curry even!

                                                                                1. re: Kagey

                                                                                  Thanks Ruth and Soupkitten...The curry turned out really good! Finding something still good at the back of the fridge is like finding money in your coat pocket!

                                                                                2. Ruth

                                                                                  Jfood is really glad you survived as he would have missed your posts.

                                                                                  As one of the "safety fanatics" what you did would have never happened at casa jfood. that container would have been so fast down the drain the dog would not have even had a chance to whiff it.

                                                                                  But the good news is that jfood, like swsidejim, takes the menu planning to the nth degree. the usual extra food in the fridge relates to little jfood deciding to go out with friends or hit the gym instead of eating. Then the next day she's told she has leftovers and deja vu's the night before.

                                                                                  The general rule of thumb for cooked proteins is eat within 48 hours or out it goes. And it's rare that a protein gets "insinkerated".

                                                                                  1. Good topic! - I suspect your turkey broth was good because you put it in a container hot and then sealed it so no harmful bacteria could get into it, essentially canning it. I do this often with stocks and soups too big to go in the fridge which I know I'll eat within a couple of days. I get them to a boil, cover, let the pot lid get very hot too and then just turn off the heat and leave it on top of the stove. Anything bad that might be floating around can't get in the pot and spoil the contents and I've left stuff this way for up to a couple of days with no ill effects. I wouldn't try it without refrigeration for too long though.

                                                                                    If the pot was opened while cool and then covered again, it's a different situation. Baddies could have slipped in there.

                                                                                    In my humble opinion food shortages elsewhere are political in nature and don't have much to do with our relative abundance and I'll guiltlessly toss any food I don't think tastes good. Nevertheless, it's a shame to waste something as good as my cooking - I bet it's the same with yours.

                                                                                    Cheese, again in my humble opinion, never goes bad. It just gets more expensive.

                                                                                    And I think salmonella from eggs is more likely to be on the outside of the egg than on the inside. Not sure about this though. I know I don't think much of using a raw egg when it's called for but I always wash my hands after touching any egg. Disgusting things, chicken coups.

                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: J.P.

                                                                                      I think you're exactly right -- the stock was basically aseptic, especially since if you cool a sealed container with hot liquids quickly, you're going to get a bit of a vacuum. Most pathogenic bacteria aren't just floating around in the air anyway -- as someone pointed out above, most bacteria in cooked food comes from cross-contamination with raw food.

                                                                                      You're right -- the main reason I didn't want to waste it was that it was very good stock made with a partially smoked turkey carcass -- not something I could replace easily.

                                                                                      1. re: J.P.

                                                                                        My understanding is that in rare situations, salmonella can be on the inside of the egg BUT and its a biggie, the vast vast vast majority of birds with Salmonella on the inside are those that are factory farmed. Birds that walk around and have access to the open air are less disease prone and that includes salmonella.

                                                                                        One more reason why I spend money on free range eggs from real farmers.....

                                                                                        1. re: J.P.

                                                                                          "Cheese, again in my humble opinion, never goes bad. It just gets more expensive."

                                                                                          J.P., "truer words..." Thanks for the laugh!

                                                                                          Cay

                                                                                        2. My husband's philosophy is that the human constitution is much hardier than we give it credit for. Like you, the idea that we americans have enough food to throw stuff away is grating in our family. So if the smell isn't completely rank and it hasn't started walking and the container isn't bulging, in our house, its likely to be eatten.

                                                                                          1. I don't like wasting food, but I'm kindof bad at planning, so I end up doing it more than I would like.

                                                                                            I did open a jar of tomato sauce that had a "best by" date of July 07 (that's almost a year ago!) and was fine. (I had to freeze the rest of it, but I plan to eat it soon.)

                                                                                            I used to let a lot of pasta sauce go to waste, b/c I could never finish an entire jar, but I've since learned to freeze it.

                                                                                            I don't know if this has been mentioned, but I read somewhere recently (perhaps even on CH?) that way back when, NJ passed a law that for food and water, they have to print an expiration date that is 2 or 3 years after the manufacture date. I forgot how this law came about. So for shelf-stable stuff, I typically ignore expiration/use by dates.

                                                                                            As for fresh foodstuffs, I guess it depends on the product. I like to err on the safe side with stuff like yogurt, whereas cheese, I don't believe has an expiration date. Well, ok, I'm being facetious, but I often use cheese well beyond the "use by" date that WF or Milk Pail stamps. As for milk, I have this problem with Clover milks, but I find that 80 percent of the time, it goes bad before the expiration date (goes solid, as someone in a previous post called it).

                                                                                            Usually, if it's not molded over, I'll assume it's ok, but in my case, most of the stuff I end up tossing out is not because of an arbitrary date stamp that tells me that x has expired, but the presence of mold, etc.

                                                                                            But in general, I hate wasting food and wish I could be better organized about planning menus, etc.

                                                                                            1. You didn't say, but I would assume, that you brought the stock to a boil at some point when you made soup with it. For me, doing that along with the smell and visual tests means I can't remember when I have made myself sick eating leftovers or frozen leftovers or my frozen veggies or canning; nothing/never. I keep things for a week or more on a regular basis and reheat them or incorporate them into new dishes. YMMV!
                                                                                              Yes, fat skinning the top seems to work wonders. There are lots of things to consider in storage life besides whether you put it in cool or hot (I do both, but never large amounts if still warm). Is your fridge cooling properly? Is it at the optimum temperature? I sometimes overstuff my fridges and get poor distribution and see my lettuces freeze, for example, while the upper part is too warm.
                                                                                              Some things do not keep well, at all. I have never purchased fresh or pre-frozen rice sheets (all rolled up in a ball) without seeing mold within days of opening it.
                                                                                              I lived in North Texas for fifty years. I think I kept my fridges there as well-controlled as I do, here in southern CT; Yet things do not go bad here in CT nearly as fast! I swear! They last twice as long!
                                                                                              BTW, I have electronic, remote thermometers that have a magnetic readout on the door of my main fridge. It records highs and lows as well as the current temp of the freezer and the fridge independently.
                                                                                              Lastly, my SO will toss cheese if it has any mold on it! I grew up fairly poor and we were always salvaging old longhorn cheese. Wasteful habits bother me, to say the least. I know a few people who cook twice too much and nothing ever gets saved. Not even the dog gets it....

                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                Yeah. Boiled the heck out of it.

                                                                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                  There was heck in your stock? Don't you know how dangerous that is?

                                                                                                  1. re: jlafler

                                                                                                    Of course -- that's why I boiled it out! ;-)

                                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                      OK, you shameless laflers, you have me laffing MAO.

                                                                                              2. Question: I had a frozen pouch (from food saver) of chicken cooked in my homemade San Marzano tomato sauce. I took it out Saturday to thaw in fridge. Did not get around to it. Thought about eating it Tuesday, was afraid, so threw it out Wednesday. I was torn about doing this but did not want to risk getting sick. Any opinions about how long after thawing something is ok to eat?

                                                                                                30 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: walker

                                                                                                  cooked foods of that nature should be safe for at least a week. No reason to throw it out unless your fridge was broken.

                                                                                                  On the other hand, the thread title and content makes me wonder what the response would be if we replaced food safety with construction site safety and the thread was about a person who decided to do some work at a construction site without a helmet and validating the fact that people are overly concerned with the wearing of helmets because a brick didn't fall from three floors above and smash in their head after working that day.

                                                                                                  Helmets, we don't need no stinkin' helmets!

                                                                                                  1. re: Blueicus

                                                                                                    It's all about reasonable assumption of risk. As a healthy adult, even if I did get sick it was unlikely to be fatal, or even have any permanent physical repercussions. I had food poisoning for the first time a few months ago, and although I was miserable for a couple of days, I didn't even require medical treatment.

                                                                                                    Would I have fed it to my two-year-old niece? No. Am I telling everyone it's okay to blithely disregard food safety recommendations. No. But "should I toss this" questions come up on this board frequently, and many of them are ridiculous (can I eat cheese with mold? Peanutbutter that's been left out? etc.) and show a total lack of information and understanding of the basics of what makes food unsafe and why.

                                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                      If you had the soup out when Alice was around, you might have had a hard time keeping her from eating it. The kid will scarf almost anything.

                                                                                                      1. re: jlafler

                                                                                                        True. She isn't going to be one of those kids who has never had curry! Fortunately, soup is not something she can grab with those busy little hands!

                                                                                                        1. re: jlafler

                                                                                                          I have to tell this: I wanted to watch a football game in 1985 and I had some urethane parts I needed to cast by Monday. I brought the chemicals amd silicone rubber molds home with me and I was casting parts under the kitchen Vent-a-hood as I watched the Cowboys. My young son somehow managed to reach the kitchen counter and grab the remains of the white liquid in the clear plastic cup before it solidified. Obviously he thought it was milk or something good.... He got a bit of it down before he spit it up. He did not suffer any ill effects from it. He had a few white "BB's" in his stool. It sure scared the hell out of us and the poison hotline was of no help!

                                                                                                          1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                            Oh my. I think I would have had a stroke.

                                                                                                    2. re: walker

                                                                                                      Goodness! I probably wasn't even thawed until sometime Sunday. And since it was in a vacuum sealed pouch, unless it was already badly contaminated when you packed it, it should have been good for at least a week.

                                                                                                      Let's put it this way: what made you think it would be bad? Freezing and thawing something doesn't in and of itself make something "go bad"; a vacuum sealed pouch has very little oxygen to support growth of bacteria; the fridge itself retards the growth of bacteria; tomato sauce is acidic, which also deters the growth of bacteria. Etc.

                                                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                        I just did not know how long it would last. I'd intended to eat it Sunday or Monday. I'm certain it was not contaminated. I should have posted something here on Tuesday when I wanted to eat it but was uncertain. I threw it away w/out even opening it because I knew I'd be tempted to eat it and didn't want to risk getting sick from it. I have a new fridge that keeps everything nice and cold -- so you think it would have been good to eat a week after transferring from freezer to fridge?

                                                                                                        1. re: walker

                                                                                                          It was most certainly good on the Wednesday you threw it out. Like R L, I'm curious as to where you think the contamination would have come from.

                                                                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                            I guess I've never known for sure how long I can keep food. So, if I take the pouch out of the freezer on Saturday and put it into the fridge to thaw, how many days do I have? I'm sorry now that, in ignorance, I threw it out too soon.

                                                                                                            1. re: walker

                                                                                                              Dear walker, please don't be offended. The balance between food safety caution and the desire to not waste food divides and unites us all. No one wants to waste, no one wants to poison their loved ones! Those of us at the extremes do argue against one another in order to obtain some reasonable and practical balance. I only inflate my argument when I say I eat anything that doesn't hop out of the ref in pink and green and run away faster than I can catch it. The jfoods and swsjims toss food out after 30 seconds, BUT only once in 7,000,000 years when a glitch in planning occurs.

                                                                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                You should keep a shotgun handy. Keeps the pink and green stuff from getting away so easily.

                                                                                                                But just like roadkill, you gotta boil 'em good afterwards.

                                                                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                  I'm not at all offended; I just simply don't know how much time is safe. Please, someone tell me. Is it really a week?

                                                                                                                  1. re: walker

                                                                                                                    As you can see from our varied answers... it's very subjective. Just as sanitary recommendations for commercial kitchens recommend cooling food to half its temperature in a maximum of two hours and then to bring it to refrigerator temperature in another two hours max it doesn't mean the food quality plummets off some sort of "plateau of death" if the food isn't cold in more than four hours. Similarly, leftovers and similar foods do not follow a neat and clear divide between spoiled and not spoiled. We must just use our discretion while not being overly paranoid... or simply cook less and shop more often in smaller quantities.

                                                                                                                    1. re: walker

                                                                                                                      walker, I don't trust commercial or restaurant kitchens, not because they don't do all that they can do, but because they work with a lot of people, have unknown storage facilities, and have some potentially hard to control condititions.

                                                                                                                      At home you can keep things and your hands clean, keep animals out of your kitchen (yes, this will offend many of us), properly wash produce, take care with meats and poultry (not to cross-contaminate), prepare foods in ways that things properly cooked (boiled or simmered enough or roasted properly), and properly store your left-overs.

                                                                                                                      1. re: walker

                                                                                                                        Walker, as others have said, the safe length of time is subjective and dependent on many factors, including the conditions in your kitchen. It helps if you have some confidence about your own ability to spot problems--funny smell, off texture or color, etc. But that comes with experience.

                                                                                                                        In your case, you were genuinely worried about the chicken. So you absolutely did the right thing by tossing it. Next time, you might risk it. And you might get sick. But we can only depend on educated discretion.

                                                                                                                2. re: walker

                                                                                                                  At least (and judging from the posters I'm a person whose sensibilities lie between the dumpster diving for 3-month old people and the hypochondriacs... aren't I a happy medium? :P ). You can basically treat frozen food the same as if you had cooked it the day before (provided you had cooked it and put it in the freezer a couple days later).

                                                                                                                  1. re: Blueicus

                                                                                                                    We have friends who always eat very old restaurant leftovers, sometimes in the week to ten day category, without incident. We have always read that doggy bags turn bad faster than sealed containers because the diner's fork has been moving between the entree and his or her mouth during the course of the meal, introducing the same bacteria as can be found in the diner's mouth to the entree, where it multiplies. Funny, they never get sick. LOL, we often wonder if they have built up their immunities?

                                                                                                                    1. re: RGC1982

                                                                                                                      Before dinner were they feasting like hyenas on putrid, spoiling raw carcasses on the savanah previously feasted on by a group of very sick Bantu who contaminated the meat? Had they cleaned the floor of the restaurant with their tongues? Had they festering, bleeding mouth wounds? What is your perceived source of their food contamination?

                                                                                                                      1. re: RGC1982

                                                                                                                        It is probably the salt. Restaurant meals usually have so much salt it probably kills any bacteria, if any.

                                                                                                                        1. re: RGC1982

                                                                                                                          Wouldn't any bacteria that are in your mouth be contaminating anything you eat as you eat it? If you were sick, and someone else ate your leftovers they might catch your disease, but I don't think that would cause food poisoning per se.

                                                                                                                          The world is swimming with bacteria, but very little of it is harmful, and some of it is actually beneficial.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                            If the bacteria were already in/on the mouth of the eater before the bacteria engaged in fork-contact with the food, wouldn't the eater, by definition, already be infected by those bacteria? So how could s/he get sick by eating the food later? I'm confused . . . ;-)

                                                                                                                            I think some people here *are* confusing SPOILED food with food that has been contaminated by a pathogenic bacteria like e.coli or salmonella. Even the freshest food can have the latter contaminants and make you ill, while the former will rarely do so.

                                                                                                                            Leftover food in your fridge that looks good (i.e. is not moldy or slimy), smells good (i.e. doesn't smell rancid, sulferous, etc.), and tastes good is not going to make you sick, even if it is a few days old (or a week old, or a week past the "sell by" date, etc.), UNLESS that food was contaminated with a pathogenic bacteria before you cooked it and you didn't cook it to a temperature proper to kill the bacteria, in which case it would have likely made you sick the *first* time you ate it.

                                                                                                                            There might be the rarest chance that food got cross-contaminated *after* you cooked it and ate it the first time, and before you put it in the refrigerator -- in which case there is something else in your kitchen that can make you sick -- but it's pretty basic that if it was safe when you put it in the refrigerator/freezer, it will be safe to eat until it looks/smells/tastes spoiled. Even then, a taste of spoiled food won't likely make you sick -- it will just make you wrinkle your nose in disgust and say "EW!"

                                                                                                                            1. re: DanaB

                                                                                                                              This is an excellent point -- the distinction between "spoiled" and "contaminated/poisonous" gets lost in a lot of these discussions, but it's very important. People *deliberately* eat moldy cheese, after all. Rancid oil tastes nasty, but consuming it won't hurt you.

                                                                                                                              1. re: jlafler

                                                                                                                                I'm curious, does the propensity to eat spoiled food (which in most cases taste worse than the original food) make a person any less a chowhound? I mean, the person is clearly willing to sacrifice taste in the name of not wasting (i.e. eating to live as opposed to living to eat)... so why not just have lunch at the cheapest place you can find regardless of the cost?

                                                                                                                                1. re: Blueicus

                                                                                                                                  Oh, come on. People have not been saying that spoiled food is just as good as unspoiled food, or saying they deliberately eat spoiled food (except weirdos who like blue cheese -- yecccch!). The issue we're getting at here is that people are discarding food because they think it's unsafe, when in fact there's nothing wrong with it.

                                                                                                                                  I'm diabetic, which means that occasionally I have to eat when I'm not hungry or tailor what I eat to my health needs rather than my taste. I also admit that if I were starving, I'd probably cave in and eat something even if it wasn't "hyperdelicious." Luckily, I don't care whether anybody thinks I'm a true chowhound.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Blueicus

                                                                                                                                    Some food tastes better "spoiled": aged meat, aged cheese, blue cheese (vbg), etc. But as DanaB noted above, "spoiled" is not synonymous with "unsafe": food can be unsafe and still taste perfectly fine, and food can be "spoiled" and still be perfectly safe to consume. What's important, really, is to learn the difference.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                      I was just thinking that there's also a whole genre of traditional recipes that are specifically intended to make use of ingredients that are past their peak, e.g. bread pudding.

                                                                                                                                2. re: DanaB

                                                                                                                                  Excellent points!

                                                                                                                                  1. re: DanaB

                                                                                                                                    yes, yes yes, exactly. Thank you!

                                                                                                                                3. re: RGC1982

                                                                                                                                  doggy bags don't necessarily go "bad" faster....saliva can break down foods if a spoon or fork has been eaten off and put back in. It's essentially, starting to digest in the container...not sure that means it's gone bad.

                                                                                                                        2. As others have said, the combination of having cooked the stock before refrigerating it, kept it covered and cold, and then having re-cooked it before consuming it were key steps in reducing the likelihood of food poisoning.

                                                                                                                          But as far as fanatical food-safety recommendations erring on the side of extreme caution go, one cannot help but consider that sex between a healthy young man and woman without birth control does not always lead to a pregnancy.

                                                                                                                          I'm a big fan for microwaving before consuming any previously-cooked food that's been lounging in the refrigerator for an extended period.