It sounds simple: if your food goes bad, toss it. But sometimes, food shows subtle signs of rotting that people don’t spot. Perhaps the texture changes slightly, or only one corner grows mold. These may seem like a small concern, but they could lead to foodborne illness.
Some signs of rotting are apparent, such as wrinkling or visible mold. Others are subtle. Frozen food may look too frozen, or the color under an avocado’s stem may be too dark. Read on to learn the foolproof methods of determining whether or not your food has gone bad.
Don’t Open The Can
Although some canned foods can last forever, others can develop dangerous pathogens. Botulinum is a toxin that forms in old canned foods, and even a small amount can be deadly. To avoid it, use canned foods before they go bad, says the CDC.
First, look for bulging, cracks, dents, or swelling on the outside of the can. If the container appears damaged in any way, throw it out. Rotten food will also foam or smell bad after you open the can. If your food has rotted, seal it in a bag and throw it out.
Frozen Food Shouldn’t Form Ice Crystals
Although frozen food can survive for a long time, it will eventually rot. Jimi Sturgeon-Smith, the Chief Operating Officer of Cali’flour Foods, says that the first sign is freezer burn. If ice crystals form inside the packaging, the food is still safe to eat but is losing most of its flavor and texture.
The next signal is discoloration. When meat turns grey or pink, it’s bad. If veggies look dull, they’re rotten. Check for leaks or a slimy texture, says FoodSafety.gov. That’s a surefire way to identify something you shouldn’t eat.
Avoid Meat That Becomes Slimy
With raw or deli meats, watch out for slime. According to the Express Tribune, slime results from bacteria multiplying on the surface. Raw meats are naturally wet, but if it smells off or feels unusually sticky, throw it out. Even cooked meats become slimy after rotting.
A specialist at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, Argyris Magoulas, says to watch out for any “off” appearance or texture. Sticky, tacky meat has likely gone bad. Greyish meat may not be rotten, but it’s on its way out. And beware of any animal product that smells rotten.
Discard Wrinkled And Mushy Fruit
While examining fruit, keep an eye on the texture. Mushy, squishy, or wrinkled fruit has likely gone bad, says the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Fruit gradually releases an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (PPO). This is the same enzyme that turns fruit brown.
The texture changes because of fungus or the fruit fermenting. According to Spoon University, rotten fruit can give you stomach upset. Check the bottom of the container first; rotting usually begins there and spreads upward. Slightly mushy fruit has only a few days left; cut off the bad parts and only eat the fresh fruit.
With Even A Tiny Bit Of Mold, Bread Goes Bad
Many people assume that if a corner of bread becomes moldy, they can cut it off and eat the rest. But Marianne Gravely, a technical information specialist for the USDA, disagrees. Bread is a soft food, so if mold can grow roots and spread throughout it. If mold is on one part, it’s likely elsewhere you can’t see.
Eating moldy bread can make you sick and cause breathing problems. Mold can appear white, green, black, or blue. If the bread smells yeasty, musty, or like vinegar, it’s likely gone rancid. And if bread tastes bad, it’s gone bad.
Peel Off Avocado Stem
Distinguishing a ripe from an overripe avocado can be difficult. Ripe avocados are slightly dark and firm, but not too squishy. For a simpler method, check the stem, says Claudia Sidoti, the Principal Chef at HelloFresh. If the skin looks brown under the stem, then the avocado is too ripe.
Overripe avocados are still safe to eat. However, if the fruit becomes deteriorated, it could go rancid or develop mold. These could make you sick. Check for white mold on the peel, leaking, or a foul odor.
Not All Vegetables Can Withstand Mold
While some vegetables can survive a spot of mold, others quickly become contaminated. According to the USDA, soft vegetables such as cucumbers should be discarded when mold appears. With firm vegetables–such as bell peppers and carrots–you can cut at least one inch around the moldy spot.
Mold struggles to travel through dense vegetables. But in soft vegetables, it can spread quickly. Inspect the bottom of the container, which often becomes the target of mold. Throw away vegetables that appear slimy, mushy, or off-smelling. They’ll taste even worse.
Never Eat Green Potatoes
If your potatoes turn green, do not eat or cook them. According to the USDA, the green shade signals a toxic chemical called solanine. It can cause headaches, nausea, and neurological damage. If it’s a tiny bit of green, you can cut it off. But never eat a fully-green potato.
There are other ways to tell when a potato rots, says Eat by Date. If a potato turns soft and squishy, throw it out. Discolored, disfigured, molded, and sprouting potatoes have also gone bad. Never eat anything that smells funky, either.
Seafood Smells Like…Well, Fish
Fresh and raw fish always smell as they are. But as seafood decays, the “fishy” smell increases. According to the Miami New Times, fish contains an odorless chemical called triethylamine oxide. When the chemical gets in contact with air, it breaks down and creates the foul odor.
Rotten fish may have a harsh smell, even in your refrigerator. Other signals include a slimy, milky coating on top of the fish, says Eat by Date. Fresh fillets should glisten, while rotten fish appears dull and sticky.
Make Sure That Your Eggs Sink
Have you heard of the floating egg trick? It’s a method to tell if your eggs have gone bad. If your eggs sink in water, they’re fresh; if they float, they’re rotten. But according to the USDA, a floating egg could mean that it’s old, not necessarily that it’s bad.
Registered dietitian Toby Amidor adds another foolproof method of testing your eggs: crack them open. If the egg yolks appear greenish or pinkish, they may contain Pseudomonas bacteria. It smells foul and can make you sick.
Your Guide To Spoilt Alternative Milks
Many people know how to spot sour milk, but what about alternative milk? Some of the signs are the same as regular milk. For instance, almond milk becomes thick, clumpy, and sour when it becomes rancid.
Canned products, such as coconut milk, may absorb the flavor of the can over time. If the milk alternative tastes metallic, don’t eat it. Soy milk releases gas when it goes bad, so watch out for containers that appear bloated or sprout leaks. When in doubt, a quick taste test will tell you when to throw out the product.
Mushrooms Get Darker
There are many ways to tell when mushrooms rot, but one method stands out. Fresh mushrooms should not have a smell. If they have a noticeable odor, they’ve gone bad. Usually, this can happen after two or more weeks.
The Government of Canada cautions people not to buy mushrooms that appear bruised. If the package gets damaged, it could cause botulism, a disease that attacks the body’s nerves. Rotten mushrooms will also become slimy and develop wrinkles. Many of them become darker or grow dark spots.
Baking Soda Loses Its Fizz
Believe it or not, baking soda can decay. It often loses its potency around six months after being opened, according to Eat by Date. You can determine how fresh it is from its fizz. Pour a teaspoon of baking soda into a bowl, and then add vinegar or lemon juice. If it fizzes a lot, it’s fresh. If it hardly fizzes, it’s gone bad.
Eating expired baking soda may not hurt you. However, it will not work as well in your recipes. You might as well throw it away when it becomes useless.
Yogurt Shouldn’t Have An Odor
Yogurt usually comes with a “best by” date, which estimates how long it’ll last in the fridge. But you can only know the quality by looking at the yogurt. Dietitian and nutritionist Keri Gans explains that even the slightest odor is bad news. If the yogurt smells rancid, throw it away.
Foods with high moisture content, including yogurt, often grow mold. Yogurt with fruit at the bottom is more likely to go bad quickly. If you spot any mold, throw it away, or it could upset your stomach.
Even Dried Pasta Can Rot
Even dried pasta can become unsafe to eat. Registered dietitian Alyssa Pike says that dried pasta rarely goes bad, but it will lose its taste and texture after a few years. The second you see mold or a noticeable change in texture, throw it away. Better safe than sorry.
Rotten cooked pasta is easier to spot. If the noodles get a grey or white hue, they’re going bad. Gooey pasta is a sign of mold forming. When in doubt, smell the pasta, and throw it away if it seems a bit off.
Some Cheeses Handle Mold Better Than Others
Mold on cheese is harmless, right? Well, it depends on the mold and the type of cheese. Rachel Freier, who works at Murray’s Cheese Bar, says that white, blue, and green molds can be chopped off. But if the mold is black or red, get rid of the cheese. This is aspergillus niger, and it can cause respiratory symptoms.
With hard cheeses, you can cut off the mold. But don’t risk it with soft cheeses. These are more porous and become wholly contaminated even with a bit of mold. Throw out the entire cheese if it smells bad.
Yes, Olive Oil Can Go Bad
Some may believe that oils can never go bad, but that’s not true. Minimally-processed oils, including extra virgin olive oil, can go rancid. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, explain that the chemicals in the oil break down from light and heat. It may not harm you, but it won’t taste good or offer health benefits.
You can test your olive oil’s smell. Fresh olive oil will smell light and fruity with a hint of olives. If it has rotted, it will smell “waxy” or like walnuts. Rancid olive oil will also be tasteless or even a bit gross.
Watch Asparagus Tips
Many people can easily tell when asparagus rots. According to Eat by Date, the tips of asparagus go bad first. As asparagus rots, the ends will turn dark green or even black. They will also feel mushy. You can cut off the tips and cook the rest of the stalk.
If the stalks also feel soft or slimy, don’t cook them. Discolored stems and black spots also signal that the vegetable is going rancid. If it smells rancid, or if there are more bad parts than good parts, throw it out.
Jams And Jellies Don’t Last Forever
Although jellies and jams can survive for a long time, they will eventually go bad. Many turn darker over time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re unsafe. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, jams with little sugar and preservatives tend to change texture more quickly.
You must pay close attention to the smell. If the jam or jelly smells like yeast, alcohol, or anything fermented, throw it away. A drastically different texture could indicate mold growing inside the jar. Microbiologists advise against digging out the mold and eating it, says the USDA.
Check Your Refrigerator Temperature
Is your food rotting quickly? If you can’t tell, check your refrigerator temperature. “About 25 percent of the refrigerators in [America] are operating at a temperature that can make food unsafe,” says Catherine Donnelly, a food sciences professor at the University of Vermont. If your refrigerator temperature is too low, your food has likely gone bad.
According to the FDA, the refrigerator should be kept at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is any higher, pathogens may grow on food. Check your fridge every month or so to ensure that your food is safe.