July 11, 2007

When In Doubt...

Bethany over at That'sFit drew Crabby's attention to a health question she tends to be willfully ignorant about: how long you can keep stuff in the refrigerator before you have to toss it out?

Every now and then Crabby reads an article like this and she thinks, really? That soon? My goodness!

And perhaps she even reforms her ways for a few days. But she always goes back to her usual primary method for determining Food Salvageability: the sniff test. If it doesn't stink, she pretty much eats it. Of course there are exceptions: if it has turned a noticeably different color or grown a lot of fur, or if it's been so long she can't remember how it got there, perhaps she tosses it even if it doesn't smell or taste funny.

In fact for Crabby, even mold is sometimes negotiable. But don't you do it just because Crabby does. This may be a "health" blog, but it still sets an Unhealthy Example a lot of the time. Because except for maybe certain hard cheeses, which you can cut around widely, you're really supposed to throw out baked goods or produce when any of it starts to go moldy. But try telling a luscious ripe peach harboring a little bruised and moldy spot, "Sorry, you sweet and juicy and tempting little piece of fruit, it's straight to the compost pile for you!"

Crabby just can't sometimes. Don't be like her.

Anyway, as to how long you're actually supposed to store things in the refrigerator: here's a food safety chart courtesy of the USDA.

Some examples? Most soups, stews, and casseroles seem to be 3-4 days, but meat broths and gravies are 1-2 days. Pizza is 3-4 days, but chicken nuggets are just 1-2 days. Yogurt is 7-14 days; while hard cheeses are up to 6 months unopened. There are lots more interesting information which of course Crabby will either forget or just chuckle at the next time she wants to eat an aged leftover she should be throwing away.

Also the folks at Real Simple put together another great list of how long you can keep stuff in your kitchen cabinets. Some nice surprises here! Olive Oil, two years! Power Bars 12 months! But then vinegar goes bad after 42 months, which seemed strangely specific. And what happens in the 43rd month? As Crabby has a strange assortment of vinegar bottles in varying flavors dating back to the Reagan administration, she should probably find out.

So any thoughts on leftovers, expiration dates, horrible food poisoning experiences, Wednesdays, or anything at all? Crabby loves your comments!


  1. Hi Crabby,
    I'm back from vacation and catching up on my blog reading. This is a great topic. I tend to throw out food much earlier than recommended. I won't even put it in the fridge unless I'm sure I'll use it in 24 hours. When I come home from the market all meat goes directly into the freezer unless I am going to use it within 36 hours. I do cringe when I see how long other people save left overs, fruit, etc. and then eat eat. I've never seen anyone get sick from eating 5 day old food, so I assumed all these years that I am just neurotic.

  2. "I won't even put it in the fridge unless I'm sure I'll use it in 24 hours."

    Wow! Sometimes I toss leftovers in and think, "Hmmm, I wonder when (and if) I'll see that again." I've been trying to be better lately though. I've stopped buying fruits and veggies at the grocery store just because they look so yummy and juicy. They must be on my list for a specific purpose. I'm much more likely to actually eat them.

    My grossest moldy experiences usually involve me reaching in the plastic bread bag to get out a slice and then being puzzled for a second or two. "What the... fuzz?. hmmm. Bread shouldn't be fuzzy..." (shudder!)

  3. I'm totally with you on the sniff test. Color changes or fur-sprouting werefood is of course tossed.
    As for fruits and veggies, it takes more than bruise for me to toss it.
    One of my favourite shopping stops is the moldy veggie bin at the local big box grocery. I don't know what it's properly called, overmature produce or somesuch, but it's got great buys. If the mold goes right through a fruit or veggie then it has to be tossed, but for the most part it can be cut away successfully. If I'm not sure I ask my husband. The exception is peanuts, or course. That old song taught me well.
    Around our house mold on cheese just means it's getting good.

  4. something I always will eat no matter what the date (I also do the smell test) is salad dressing. How could that go bad anyway? but all of the bottles in my fridge and cupboard are expired. For sure. I can't let my hubby see this or he'll throw them all away. But how could oil and vinegar go bad anyway? I can see the creamy ones maybe. But come on - there's nothing real in there anyway, it's just chemicals!

  5. i'm going to include a link to the real simple article, in my weekly top 5 - hope you don't mind! as for me, i don't pay attention to the exp. dates as close as i should - except for milk products... you can't be too careful about that stuff... ;o)

    i did have some old mac n'cheese while camping and you could totally tell the pasta was stale... talk about gross! :-p

  6. With 15, 18 and 20 year olds in the house, Lord knows what we might find in the fridge. It must be an unwritten teen rule. "Put anything uneaten in the fridge and leave it there until Mom or Dad throws it out - or until it can leave on its own.

  7. I can see oil going bad (it gets rancid after awhile), but vinegar? That's just old, spoiled wine, anyway!

  8. How about those little containers that slip behind something in the fridge and you find them weeks later and they totally unidentifiable - but often quite attractive if you like those sort of colours!

    In NZ we can buy pre-packaged walnuts at the supermarket and they're usually already rancid.

  9. I'm a total wimp about eating spoiled, potentially spoiled, slightly old, or just not-that-new food. I refuse to consume any dairy after the use-by date. If it's on the use-by date, I get nervous. My mom is a sniff-test kind of person. :p

    Food-spoilage story: I was 21, working on campus over the summer and staying in one of the special-interest houses. I was being a little weird about putting my food in the house fridge, so I was keeping all of my PB&J fixings upstairs, in my room, unrefrigerated (the house was air-conditioned, though). After a couple of weeks, I started noticing that my sandwiches were tasting kind of funny -- kind of sickly-sweet. But, completely out of character for me, I continued eating the bread for several more days, before it dawned on me... that's why my mom keeps the bread in the refrigerator.

    I threw out the bread and got over my refrigerator weirdness. :p

  10. Hooray, Terrie's back!
    Hope you had a great time.
    And you don't sound neurotic about tossing out leftovers, just sensible. (But I'm one of those people you would cringe at!)

    Hi Katieo,
    I have the same problem with overbuying fruits and veggies! But I can't seem to help it, especially on farmers' market days. And... grocery list--what a great idea! Whenever I actually bother to make one I forget it at home.

    Hi leah,
    "Moldy Vegetable Bin" might not be the name the markets give it, but yeah, that's what it is and there are indeed some great bargains there. Love your peanut song rule, and agree on cheese!

    Hi Randi!
    I totally agree on salad dressing. It never seems to truly expire, at least not based on the Sniff test. Plus the commercial ones probably have so many preservatvies in there they'll outlast us all. Thanks for visiting--and nice blog you have! I'll have to stop by for a more extended visit later when I'm not running behind.

    Back in a minute...

  11. Welcome Jodi,
    Another cool weightloss blog--and I have to say I'm quite curious about the sugarfree margarita mix! Now if they just made lo-cal tequila... And if you meant the day-glo orange mac & cheese in the blue box: I didn't think that stuff ever, ever went bad! Thanks for the warning.

    Marijke, that's too funny. We were really bad about that growing up--somehow it was always "mom's" job to toss stuff out.

    Hi bunnygirl,
    well that's a relief to hear about the vinegar, since I have quite a collection. Recipes will often call for a quarter cup of some very specific kind and I used to run out and buy it. Now it's like apple cider, rice wine, raspberry, who the hell cares? I just dump in whatever's closest to hand.

    Hi Dawn,
    Pre-spoiled walnuts, how efficient! You don't even have to bother putting them in the cupboard that way, just straight into the trash? (And I agree--moldy stuff is often strangely pretty!)

    Hi Chickengirl!
    Another sensible throw-it-out person! Though I love your PB&J story. And I never grew up with refrigerator bread, since we kids went through it too fast and it was the preservative-filled Wonder Bread type. Quite safe on the countertop. But now with bakery breads and a slower consumption rate, I too resort to the fridge or the freezer.

  12. It wasn't in the refrigerator, but I forgot about a banana in my banana guard (yes, that's for real, it glows, it's awesome, it's THE must have accessory of my lifetime), and it liquified. I think there is no doubt that was too long...

  13. When I worked in a restaurant in university it was 4 days from the day you cooked it or after it had been heated twice. I remember the main this was how you put it away and not so much how long it was in the fridge...you weren't supposed to put food in to the fridge while it was still warm or if you did you didn't put the sealed lid on the container until it was cool- the warmth of the food was was how the little foodbugs found a home to grow. We were told to freeze bread if it wasn't eaten in a day or it'd go all funky...apparently just putting it in the fridge makes it tougher...I'm too crude of a foodite to tell.

    I don't think vinegar goes bad...in the lab it just degrades from acetic acid into the constituents...so it smells and tastes different. No bacteria can live in it tho - we use it to disinfect and clean all the time. Although usually it's stronge than the 2-5% vingegary stuff...
    This got me thinking about how often I clean out my fridge. Not even close to enough...sometimes my husband just ocmments on how a certain container has been there forever and is scared to look in it...:)
    What's a banana guard...I'm intrigued. Does it glow when it's ripe. *I* would *love* that...I can never tell when fruits are ripe and end up throwing half them out when I cut them open for a squishy surrise...

  14. Hi Norabarnacle,
    Yes, me too, I want to know what a banana guard is! (Sounds like slang certain men would use for an athletic cup, but I'm assuming it's a 'real' banana guard?) Hope you will be back to fill us in!

    Geosomin, I love it when you come in with actual Scientific Information! (And I also love that you have an infrequently cleaned refrigerator filled with mysterious containers, just like I do.)

  15. I just loved the topic today and I chuckled that no one confessed to factoring in such variables as: how hungry they are, how fabulous the food was the first time around (leftovers), or how desperate they are to have looked like they planned a fabulous dinner that day when evaluating the questionable items. C'mon, admit it. Y'all have done this.

  16. Holly,
    Ha! Yes, those are indeed important factors! The first two especially. Not being known as one who plans fabulous dinners, the last one is not as crucial for me, but if I'm hungry and the food was really tasty the first time, I'm apt to completely "forget" how long it's been in there.

  17. And everyone knows that left-overs are even more tasty on the second heating!

  18. I love Real Simple - -it's the only mag I subscribe to for pure entertainment; all the rest are work related. But, I'm so sorry; mold is not negotiable. Egad. I'm so picky though. I'm really sensitive about what I'll eat -- no sushi even and hard cheese gross!

    Anything older than a few days I toss. I know I hate wasting stuff. I try hard to cook enough for one meal OR cook and then freeze.

    It's funny because a group of my friends and I randomly had a conversation about this last year. All the men were like, if it's not moving quite yet eat it! All the girls were all, GROSS. So there may be a gender issue here.
    Maybe -- I'm no gender expert.

  19. Hi Dawn,
    And they' ain't bad on the fourth reheating, either, if you're hungry enough!

    Hey Jennifer,
    Yeah, Real Simple seems to have some really good articles.

    Interesting, your gender theory on leftovers. Gut level, I'd say you're right. I happen to be female and in the will-eat-almost-anything camp, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out the majority of women fall out otherwise.

  20. I'm a great one for throwing food out if I'm in doubt. I sniff it, check it carefully, check dates. More often than not I give it to the dogs or put it in the compost heap.

    On the subject of mould, I learned the other day that even if you cut mould off cheese there can still be mould spores/roots??? hidden in the cheese. I don't take the chance!

  21. I'm a woman, but I don't fall into the gender theory - I'll definitely throw out milk products after their due date, but I'm not as finnicky about other foods (though I didn't realize mayo was 2 months only, I think I've had mayo in the fridge for at least 6! I just don't use it often...)

    My general rule is that for cooked seafood, reheat and eat within one or two days, but other meats are good for a week. I end up making large batches of food on sunday and then eating it all week long, since I don't have time to cook. Haven't gotten sick yet (except for the one time I went too long on the beef/lamb grape leaves and got a splitting headache).

    Fruits/veggies I'm definitely not picky on. Open-air markets don't last as long, but produce from the grocery store usually lasts me through the week. And if it's a little bruised, I can cut it off, or I just stick it in a shake, so it doesn't really matter.

    My philosophy? The more contact I have with bacteria, the better immunity I'll have to it!!! :)

  22. I love the diversity of opinion on this!

    Hi Talia,
    Another careful one, good for you! I do wonder sometimes what all that mold spores I've eaten over the years has done to my insides, but so far at least, no ill effects.

    Hi Lethological Reader!
    I'm of your theory that a healthy aquaintence with bacteria, if it isn't making us sick, strengthens the immune system. Is it true? I have no idea, but this theory allows me to eat a lot more stuff than if I followed the printed guidelines. Sounds like we're in the same camp!

  23. Photographic proof that the banana guard is indeed something other than slang for a cup is here: http://crunchynanas.com/2007/07/12/holiday-gift-idea-1/

  24. ah, the link doesn't fit the width of your comment box, well just go to http://crunchynanas.com...

  25. Thanks Norabarnacle,

    Readers, it is indeed worth checking this thing out at Crunchy 'Nanas!

  26. Nice to know eggs keep so long in the fridge. Hard to imagine pasta has a shelf life. Isn't it sort of already stale?

    Here's my expired-food story. One summer in high school I worked at a Dairy Queen owned by an old miser named Charlie. I was a short order cook and sold soft-serve ice cream. It seemed perfectly reasonable to toss the wrinkly, moldy half of a tomato into the trash bin. Charlie found it and went around to every teenaged worker in the establishment demanding who had thrown away good food. Apparently Charlie operated with the philosophy that if you can carve out a half-thimble-sized piece of unmoldy tomato, the fruit is sound. No one fessed up, certainly not I, the culprit, and Charlie put the wrinkly, moldy half tomato back into the refrigerator. After he left, I threw the wretched red remnant onto the sandy slope behind the building. Charlie cheated me out of $11.80 on my final paycheck, too.

  27. Hi Appleton!

    It's always fun when you stop by.

    I'd like to make a more mature comment, but all I can think of to say is: that Charlie was a total prick. Hope his little Dairy Queen went bankrupt before he poisoned everybody in town.

  28. I use the husband test:

    Step 1: Feed to husband
    Step 2: Spits out, bad. Eats it, good.

    I keed!

    Where I live, if you leave bread out on the counter for 48 hours it WILL go fuzzy. Every. Single. Time. Bread must be kept either in the freezer or the cold fridge side.

  29. Goinggone,
    Too funny! Actually, Most Significant Other is even less fussy than I am. So lack of spitting out wouldn't necessarily mean edible food. And wow, that's fast fuzz on the bread!

  30. I was just asking that question the other day. Thanks for the guidelines. In the south, a week is the basic guideline.

  31. You're welcome anonymous! and thanks for stopping by.

    Maybe you'll be better about actually following the guidelines than I am. But at least I haven't poisoned myself yet!

  32. I live in a household where healthy food is often bought and then ignored. I tend to go through spurts where I eat realy good. However this usually means, much like today, picking the moldy spots off raspberries and eating them and eating soft (but very delicious) peaches that have been in the fridge for close to a month at this point. Perhaps that's bad? And whenever I really want carrots, they're there in the fridge but frequently several weeks expired. I eat those too for the most part. I'm not much of a meat eater anyhow but that's the sort of thing I sure wouldn't take my chances on. Gross before it's moldy, must be horrible once it is in the fridge too long...

  33. Hi Anonymous,
    I totally agree--best to be much more fussy with meat than produce. Sounds like no ill effects from the old fruit & veggies? Me neither. So while the guidelines say we're both being bad, I'll probably have to get sick from before I stop. Thanks for stopping by--and good for you for having healthy spurts!

  34. I'm pretty good about the food in the fridge, and my 10 year old is great for looking at the expiration dates.

    I recently decided to audit my herbs to see what I needed.

    I found bottles of herbs dating back to 1992. Smelled them, they smelled ok but figured it was time to quit using them so now they're incense......

  35. Elizabeth--
    What an excellent recycling idea!

    Somehow I got the impression groing up that anything in the spice cupboard was pretty much good until the end of time. Not true, obviously, but somehow that idea has stuck with me, and it's probably been at least a decade since the last herb/spice audit. I notice the thyme is brown instead of green--probably a sign that it's time!


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