Food poisoning is the worst. I try to avoid it all costs, but I recently took a look at my refrigerator and realized there were some items I’d had in there for a long time. And I had no idea if these foods were still good. Could I keep using that expired mustard? Was it okay that I’d hung onto a jar of miso for over a year? Did stuff in my freezer stay good forever?
In the name of all that is good and not nauseating, I sat down to do some research. I talked to food safety coach Jeff Nelkin and spent some serious time Googling. Here are ten things from my fridge that I need to throw out—and that you should throw out too.
1. That leftover takeout
“Items you buy from restaurants are best consumed within 48 hours,” says Nelkin. To be honest, if you’ve failed to eat your leftover lo mein in two days, you deserve to have it taken away from you. That stuff is delicious. Eat it up before it’s too late!
2. Expired condiments
I’m guilty of using condiments long past their expiration date. But according to Still Tasty, they don’t last forever, even refrigerated. Assuming your condiments are opened and refrigerated, toss mustard after a year or so. Mayo should last 2-3 months past the date on the package, and barbecue sauce, ketchup, and commercial salad dressings aren’t good for much longer than 6 months. Throw out jam or maple syrup after about a year. Hang onto soy sauce for two.
3. Dairy from the refrigerator door
“Items kept on the refrigerator door are 5 degrees warmer than inside the unit,” explains Nelkin. “What do you find in the door? Milk, eggs, cheese…”
That doesn’t mean these items have definitely gone bad if you keep them in the door, but check them for signs of going bad, like a rotten odor or mold. And also—next time, don’t keep them in the door.
4. Mystery leftovers
I grew up in a household where, “Are these leftovers still good?” was met with a firm, “Give them a sniff and see,” from my mother. I’ve never trusted my own nose as much as hers, so my approach is a bit more cautious.
Don’t know how long you’ve had those leftovers? Toss ‘em.
Do they smell or look weird? Toss ‘em.
Had ‘em for more than four days? Toss ‘em. Enjoy not getting food poisoning.
Nelkin recommends you label your food. Scribble down the date as you stow it in the fridge and next time you won’t be stuck wondering how many days ago you cooked that rice.
5. Fermented foods
“People think fermented foods can be kept for a thousand years,” says Nelkin. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Pull any jars of miso, pickles, sauerkraut, and yogurt from the back of the fridge and give them a good once-over.
Miso is good for a year and a half, but then it has to go. Throw out those store-bought dill pickles after a year. Once opened, sauerkraut has a refrigerator shelf life of about a week, and store-bought yogurt is only good up until a week or two after the “sell by” date on the package.
6. Smoked/preserved meats
Deli counter salami is only good for a few days, but the dry hard variety will keep for 2-3 weeks. It won’t, as I previously believed, last indefinitely. If you’ve had it for more than a few weeks, toss it, you monster.
7. Broth or stock
Guys, I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to have to use up that chicken stock in about four days or you’ll have to throw it out.
That’s why I like to store the stuff in the freezer, where it lasts significantly longer. You can pull it out when you’re really craving soup.
8. Moldy fruit
I know it’s tempting to just slice the moldy bits off those strawberries or peaches, but you should really just throw the whole thing out.
Why? Mold doesn’t just exist on the surface of a soft piece of fruit. If you’re seeing heavy mold growth, that means “root threads” are probably inside the fruit, even though you can’t see them. And those suckers can make you sick.
9. Food stored in tins
Canned tomatoes, fruits, tuna—super convenient, but do yourself a favor and store any extras in some good tupperware once you’ve opened them. Food stored in open tin cans, especially acidic foods like tomatoes, can transfer tin to the food. At best, this means your food will taste unpleasantly tinny. At worst, it can make you sick.
10. Food that you’ve been eating straight out of the storage container
My mom hates that I eat ice cream straight from the carton sometimes. She thinks it’s gross when I take a swig of juice from the bottle and then put the bottle back in the fridge.
I haven’t asked an expert, but she’s probably right in her assumption that this adds some nasty germs to the food—and that it’s not the best manners.
That’s right, folks, you heard it here first. Get a plate, bowl, or cup. Use it as intended. My mom says so, and she’s rarely wrong.