You don't need us to tell you that spoiled food is bad news. It's a waste of money, a waste of time, and potentially a waste of a delicious meal. More importantly, it could also make you really, really sick. After all, there's a very good reason human beings experience instinctual revulsion at the smell of rotten plants and animals.
But what you might not realize is that some foods can absolutely lay waste to your refrigerator when they go bad. We're talking about smells so powerful that they'll forever taint your icebox, leaving inextricable odors that stick around until the day you finally junk it.
Regardless of how healthy the following edibles might be for you, one thing's for sure: They're ticking time-bombs of olfactory destruction.
Kale has been a favorite with health nuts for years, thanks to its high nutrient density and intense flavor. It also crisps up nicely when baked—a trait that has led to the rising popularity of kale chips as a healthy snack. (We like ours sprinkled with sea salt and garlic.)
Kale actually keeps quite well, and it can be frozen to last upwards of a year. In fact, like grapes, kale actually becomes sweeter when exposed to a frost. Some suggest blanching kale before freezing, though boiling will diminish its nutritional value.
But if you let it sit just a little too long in your crisper drawer, kale can quickly turn truly putrid. The outer leaves become slimy and fetid fluids will run all over your fridge's shelves and drawers. Kale is in the same plant family as other healthy favorites like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts, all of which share its smelly death spiral.
Renee Saindon, Editorial Assistant, says: "Bad kale smells like a litterbox."
The humble potato really shouldn't be stored in a fridge, but rather in a dark environment of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, where it'll last for months and improve in flavor over time. That temperature is absolutely crucial in preventing spoilage.
If you don't treat them right, your spuds may actually start sprouting, and then rotting. It's easy to cut away the affected areas from an individual potato, but after a while all the flesh will turn black and start to stink up your house in a bad, bad way. In our (unfortunate) experience, you'd be particularly well-advised to avoid leaving potatoes to rot in a cupboard; once the stench soaks in, it's virtually impossible to exorcise.
TJ Donegan, Editor in Chief of Reviewed.com Cameras, says: "Rotten potatoes smell like ammonia and dead bodies."
(We're not sure why TJ is familiar with the scent of dead bodies.)
Whether cooked or raw, our favorite food group doesn't last very long in the fridge. Meaty leftovers should only be stored for three or four days, while raw meat shouldn't be in there for more than a day or two. Now, when leftover beef, chicken, or fish goes bad, things can get pretty nasty. But in our experience, spoiled raw meat presents an uglier situation by far.
Evolutionary biologists attribute our disgust at the smell of rotting meat to a deep-rooted self-preservation instinct. Humans, the theory goes, should simply have no interest in hanging around things potentially contaminated with dangerous pathogens. Whatever the real cause, spoiled meat is one of the worst smells you can possibly encounter, and one you should definitely try to keep out of your fridge.
Virginia Barry, Managing Editor of Reviewed.com Electronics, says: "Spoiled meat smells acidic and vomit-like."
Durian doesn't need to go bad to stink out the refrigerator; this south-Asian tropical fruit smells terrible from day one. You might stumble across durian at an Asian market or, more likely, a friend might pass you some as a dare. (If that happens, you might as well try it. Even some who think the fruit smells terrible have enjoyed the taste.)
Either way, durian flesh that has been removed from its thorny shell should be wrapped in plastic and frozen until you're ready to eat it. Refrigeration will only be good for two days or so, and freezing help keeps the scent down. We've never experienced a rotten durian, but we have to assume the already noxious smell would only intensify. You've been warned.
(Despite durian's repulsive odor, the New York Times reported in 2007 that attempts to develop an odorless cultivar were met with surprising resistance from "durian enthusiasts" and traditionalists. Just goes to show, people can get attached to pretty much anything.)
Andrew Winson, Data Entry Specialist, says: "Some people think durian smells like onions, some people think it smells like raw sewage."
Refrigerated milk is good for about a week after the "sell by" date. But what if you let it go for longer than that? What about much, much longer than that? Unfortunately, we can speak from experience on this one.
The Consumer Electronics Show takes place in Las Vegas every January, immediately after the long holiday break. CES is an all-hands event at Reviewed.com, so combined with holiday vacations, it creates a three-week gap during which pretty much nobody goes into our appliance testing labs.
After last year's show, our brave appliance testers returned to find that a half gallon of 2%—already a week past expired before the break—had burst and sprayed foul-smelling chunks all over the interior of the break room fridge. Our staff continue to use that same fridge to this day, but they're definitely not happy about it.
Keith Barry, Editor in Chief of Reviewed.com Appliances, says: "The smell inside that fridge was somewhere between a petting zoo and a Diaper Genie."
Though expert opinions on their health benefits seem to vary from day to day, there's no denying that eggs are a cheap source of high-quality protein. And really, there's nothing else that goes quite so well with bacon.
Eggs are also surprisingly resilient. There are stories of eggs lasting upwards of a year when properly stored, though to achieve that kind of long life you need a constant temperature of 35–40 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity of 70–80%. The USDA's recommendation for egg refrigeration isn't quite so ambitious: They suggest no more than five weeks of storage for a new carton.
That recommendation, however, relies on one key assumption: un-cracked egg shells. Eggs lose virtually all resistance to spoilage without their protective shell, so even if you think you've got plenty of time left, one little crack could set you up for a surprising, sulfuric stench.
Ben Keough, Staff Writer, says: "There's a reason why all lousy smells are compared to rotten eggs."
So let this be a lesson, folks. Take care of your perishables, and your perishables will take care of you.