All food purchased fresh from the store and gone uneaten eventually goes bad, including dry, dehydrated and cultured milk products. Sometimes there is harm involved in the expiration of store-bought goods and sometimes the harm is cut short by simple dehydration, as with the case of unpalatable, dried-out cheese. Food is something that should appeal to everyone, and learning how to identify spoilage should make for some very interesting moments and exhibits. Rotation and freshening in the refrigerator, freezer, and cupboard is a process that must never stop.
For capped and lidded foods, a glance at the expiration date tells the story much faster than resorting to an odor test. If there is no expiration date then glancing through plastic or glass may be easier than opening the lid to determine whatever mother nature has reclaimed. Usually if it has been more than a week or two or you can’t remember, it’ has probably already succumbed. Bagged foods will either betray their state by offering an offensive odor or reveal their state upon simple visual inspection. As for meats, it’s particularly important to err on the side of caution each time. With a little practice at buying fresh food for use in the short-term, expensive foodstuffs need never go to waste. Discover five solid tips on how to detect spoilage, below.
The case to purchase food before its sell-by date and use it before its use-by date is a simple one to make. The reason is because it’s to the advantage of both manufacturers and grocers to give food the longest possible shelf life so that it can be sold before it can no longer be used. This is done as a scientific process with particular emphasis on protecting the consumer and supplying food guaranteed to be spoilage-free before the listed dates. There is no “throw out” date on any food because the responsibility to determine any matter of spoilage is ultimately your own.
Inspect the date offered by the manufacturer carefully to determine whether it is a “sell-by” or a “use-by” date. In some cases there will be both a date of manufacture in addition to a use-by date, so be sure to sort out the later use-by date, using a little common sense.
Depending on the product, it may keep less than five days in the case of most meat — or perhaps as much as a month, once opened, for friendly bacterial-cultured fare such as buttermilk, cottage cheese, sour cream, or yogurt. Seafood expires faster than meat because it originates from a higher pressure system.
Nonetheless, fresh is always better, and it is certainly best to use the majority of food products within the first week after breaking the seal. Doing so will reduce growth accumulation of unwanted pathogens that live in your home. Of course, there are long-lasting foodstuffs such as condiments and certain sauces that seem to keep indefinitely. Even these may need to be thrown out some day if no one has been using them.
Treat any expiration date with the sort of scrutiny that it deserves.
Spoilage is signified by discoloration across the spectrum of food-types. Some types of discoloration indicate loss of vital essence, and other types indicate the presence of mold that has begun its inevitable domination of cell wall exteriors.
Red meats typically turn brown first before spoiling, and green vegetables will usually start to turn yellow in tiny splotches. Food may also start to blacken, such as mushrooms, jelly, jam or cheese.
Occasionally, fresh-bought produce and tomatoes together with potatoes and citrus fruits show black spots just below the skin, undetectable otherwise. Whether it spoils the entire veggie or not is an exercise in judgment or tolerance, just taste it and see.
As vegetables begin showing signs of rancidification, they become quite limp. This happens with stalk vegetables and even root vegetables. Food once inflexible becomes flaccid and can be flexed with ease. Corn kernels develop a sunken look.
If your food is only dehydrated but still fresh – and this can happen with any number of stalk vegetables, including lettuce – let it soak in ice cold water or place it in a glass of water, root-side down, to rejuvenate. It will soon absorb water and return to its naturally crisp state.
The odor test is not often anything of a test at all. You will simply know the moment you open your refrigerator door that something has run afoul of the freshness test, and at that point cleaning becomes a matter of isolating the specific food or foods that have turned.
Meat reveals spoilage with a rather perfidious, gassy stench. However, meat spoils in fact even before this odor is obvious. Meat on the verge is best thrown out because there is already plenty of harmful bacteria on-board which may exact a little stomach churning at the least. Generally, meat goes from smelling sweet to smelling neutral, almost bitter or slightly tainted.
Oils of any sort begin to rancidify, developing a foul, putrid odor that accompanies loss of any of their natural anti-oxidant properties. Do not use rancid cooking oil because it contains free radicals that can harm you, your family, or your guests.
Apart from Limburger cheese, there are very few “naturally foul” good-for-you food odors. Use your sense of smell to distinguish between fresh and tainted. If after a little taste test there is any doubt (spit it into a handy napkin if necessary) the food has probably already begun to turn.
The sight of least appeal to any fridge raider is usually an oozing or fungus-ridden collection of vegetable matter – decayed, naturally. When meat spoils, it may also be subject, given time, to similar effects exhibited by vegetable products, if exposed directly to air, such as mold or deterioration. Meat sometimes begins to separate from itself, with little raised areas rising from surfaces of bacon fat or bologna. That’s a positive sign of putrefaction in foods that sometimes can be too full of preservatives to make an obvious determination. Finding white mold on the black olives while making a Dagwood sandwich can be an extremely depressing experience.
Fungus, mold in particular, comes in a variety of colors from micro-groves of tiny, black tree-like growths to green and even pink or orange blotches. Cheese often begins to go bad by showing white spots. Whether these white spots are salt from dehydration or the beginning of mold irregardless, it’s not going to be appetizing to family or guests. Either throw it out or cut it off and feed the untainted portion to pets. If there is only the very beginning of mold showing, it’s sometimes all right to scoop it off and serve. Scraping off the entirety of the top layer is the better idea. But if anyone is ill, it should not be served at all.
In the case where contamination is prolific or the adulterant is hazardous, there is no question about throwing out the food, whatever it may be. Salvaging is too much trouble. Resort to making meals fresh and you won’t be as likely to let anything expire.
It’s also important to look closely at any blotches that show. It could be nothing other than food from another jar that dropped in from a utensil. You’ll want to remove any positively identified foreign material when serving to hold on to your position as top cook.
Detecting spoiled food is not always obvious. As such, it’s important to use any clues at your disposal when making that intelligent decision to throw it away. When spoilage is not controlled, and food is left uncovered, harmful spores can be released in your refrigerator that can promote faster spoilage, and bacteria can probably float around in cold air to some extent. So be sure to scrub down your refrigerator if any spoilage has recently occurred to keep the place where you store what is eaten sanitary to promote good health.