Take Care

Toss Your Cookies

FridgeEver looked inside your refrigerator only to find a “science experiment” in the making? Truth is, if you decide to taste-test food that’s past its prime, you could join the ranks of the 6 to 81 million people who, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), get a food-related illness every year. And the recent salmonella outbreaks are another reason to learn how you can avoid the risk of food poisoning. How do you know if you should keep or toss foods in the refrigerator, freezer, or pantry? Read on for a shelf-by-shelf guide.


Shelf Life: Use the
expiration date as your guide.
Past Its Prime: If it smells bad, tastes sour, is chunky or filmy, or there’s anything floating on top, it’s time to toss.
Ick or Sick: Milk that has started to sour will make your cereal or coffee taste off, but it probably won’t make you sick, says Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian in Dallas and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.


Shelf Life: Use the expiration date as your guide.
Past Its Prime: You see mold growth; it doesn’t typically smell bad.
Ick or Sick: Bad yogurt can cause intestinal problems, like diarrhea.


Shelf Life: Follow “best used by” date.
Past Its Prime: There are more ice crystals than ice cream in the container.
Ick or Sick: Old ice cream tastes bad but probably won’t make you sick.


Shelf Life: Six to 12 months
Past Its Prime: Bacteria can’t grow at zero degrees in the freezer. However, food quality can deteriorate over time. If meat has ice crystals on it, it’s time to toss.
Ick or Sick: Long-frozen food doesn’t taste very good.


Shelf Life: Three to five days
Past Its Prime: Meat feels slimy or smells bad; might turn a greenish-gray and have a shiny appearance.
Ick or Sick: Any number of bacteria (listeria, salmonella, E. coli) could be lurking on luncheon meats and could cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, and headache.


Shelf Life: Unopened, prepackaged hard cheese or individually wrapped slices will last for six months. Once opened, eat within three to four weeks. With soft cheeses, like cream, ricotta, or cottage cheese, eat within two weeks of purchase and within one week of opening.
Past Its Prime: Mold on hard cheese doesn’t mean it has gone bad. “There are a lot of cheeses with mold on them,” says Sandon, “like bleu cheese.” With other types of cheese, simply cut away the moldy part and enjoy the rest — as long as it hasn’t reached the end of its shelf life.
Ick or Sick: Soft cheeses are susceptible to the bacteria listeria, which causes a kind of food poisoning called listeriosis.

CONDIMENTSKetchup and Mustard

Shelf Life: Follow “best used by” date.
Past Its Prime: Ketchup, for example, that’s spoiled can cause an “acidy” sensation on the tongue, says Sandon.
Ick or Sick: Expired condiments might taste or smell bad but probably won’t make you sick.


Shelf Life: Follow “best used by” date.
Past Its Prime: “It’s more a food quality issue than a food safety issue,” says Sandon. “The longer you let fruit juice sit, the less vitamin C will
be available.”
Ick or Sick: It might have an
off taste.


Shelf Life: Five to seven days
Past Its Prime: It’s mushy or bruised; some vegetables become limp; skin on some fruits and vegetables might
look or feel wrinkly.
Ick or Sick: Sliminess comes from the breakdown of the produce’s cellular structure, says Sandon, not from bacteria.


Shelf Life: One to two days raw; three to four days after being cooked.
Past Its Prime: You notice a bad smell or change in color (might have a grayish hue).
Ick or Sick: You can get salmonellosis (from the bacteria salmonella) from poultry and end up with diarrhea and abdominal cramps.


Shelf Life: One to four days
Past Its Prime: Don’t risk it; just toss by the fourth day.
Ick or Sick: The CDC says that the most common illness-causing bacteria associated with leftovers is called Clostridium perfringens. Food poisoning from this bacteria will cause stomach cramps and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration. People typically recover within about 24 hours and might write it off as the 24-hour flu.


Shelf Life: Three to five weeks
Past Its Prime: When you crack the egg, you smell something rotten.
Ick or Sick: Bad eggs could be harboring the bacteria salmonella.



Shelf Life: Up to a year
Past Its Prime: “Best used by” date has passed.
Ick or Sick: Refrigerate an opened jar of sauce — and then use within a week — to avoid bacterial contamination.


Shelf Life: One to three years
Past Its Prime: To see if you
need new spices, visit www.spicecheckchallenge.com.
Ick or Sick: Although not a health risk, older spices just won’t season as well.


Shelf Life: Follow “best used by” date.Cereal
Past Its Prime: You find bugs inside the box. (Sandon stores all of her dry goods in airtight containers to avoid
Ick or Sick: More disgusting than dangerous.


Shelf Life: Follow “best used by” date.
Past Its Prime: The can is dented or you hear a long hissing sound when you open it.
Ick or Sick: Dents or hisses mean that a toxin, like botulism, has set up residence inside the can. This occurs when a can is dropped or dented and the protective seal inside the can ruptures. Then the can starts to rust from the inside out, and the resulting chemical reaction can make you sick.

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