“Is It Spoiled?” When in Doubt, Check It Out

“Is it spoiled?” You’ve probably asked yourself that question thousands of times as you held in your hand some edible item (maybe an open jar of mayonnaise or jelly, maybe a half-stick of butter) that had been in your fridge for a few months. You know the frequently reiterated response from websites on food safety: “When in doubt, throw it out.” Your health can’t go wrong with that advice, but what about your budget? You don’t want to throw out perfectly good food and have to spend money to replace it.


That’s why we’ve revised the familiar jingle to say “When in doubt, check it out.” The truth is, no one can guarantee the safety or quality of a product once it’s in your possession. No one knows the storage conditions in your home or how the food has been handled after leaving the supermarket. However, you know. Therefore, given a little help, you can make a pretty intelligent guess as to whether a product is spoiled or not.


Of course, you can begin with the “look and sniff” tests. If it looks moldy and/or smells bad, into the garbage it goes. But some foods aren’t so explicit about their condition.


What about the date stamped on the product? Remember, three points:


1) These dates are about the quality of the product, not whether it’s safe to eat.

2) Once the product is open, the expiration date is no longer applicable.  

3) If you purchase a product that's not frozen and  then freeze it, the expiration date is not applicable. (Frozen food that's safe to eat when it goes into the freezer will remain safe forever while frozen. The quality will diminish with time, but not as fast as if it's in the fridge or on the counter.)    


To find out how long experts recommend keeping a particular food, check with the following sources. (Some sources tell how long a product remains good unopened and once opened.)


-First, stop on our site: It contains information on 100s of products.


-If the product you’re wondering about isn’t on our site, try getting the answer from the manufacturer. The company website and/or phone number are probably on the container.


-Many sites on the internet have databases of food storage guidelines. Here are some we recommend:


-K-State Research and Extension (Kansas State University)

  1. “Cupboard Storage Chart”
  2. “Refrigerator Storage Chart”
  3. “Freezer Storage Chart”


-Texas Agricultural Extension Service (The Texas A&M University System) “Safe Home Food Storage: Food Storage Timetable”

href="http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Food_Product_Dating/index.asp"> • USDA Fact Sheets “Food Labeling: Food Product Dating”


-For related information, see our Tip entitled “It Says Use By Tomorrow, But You Don't Have To


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