February 14, 2019
Food poisoning is a serious problem in the United States. In fact, the CDC estimates about 48 million people get sick from foodborne illness each year. A misunderstanding of how to safely store leftover food may be the cause of many of these cases.
There are two types of illness-causing bacteria found on food – spoilage bacteria and foodborne pathogens. Spoilage bacteria grow when food expires or isn’t properly stored. Generally easy to identify, spoilage bacteria are what give spoiled milk that rotten smell or make fruits and vegetables slimy and mushy. Foodborne pathogens, on the other hand, are more covert and cause serious illnesses like salmonella and E-coli. These bacteria don’t have the same red flags that make spoilage bacteria so identifiable, and often spread rapidly and widely.
Fortunately, food-related illness can be proactively prevented by washing produce, refrigerating, or freezing foods in a timely fashion, and properly sanitizing hands and surfaces after handling raw meat, fruits, and vegetables.
With that being said, here’s how long common foods can take up fridge space without becoming dangerous:
Researchers have found that healthy diets made up of fresh produce, like fruits and vegetables, are often the most wasteful. As more people reap the benefits of a healthy, natural lifestyle, more produce gets tossed out as consumers accidentally let food spoil. Here’s how long some common produce can last without going bad:
• Green beans, melons, radishes: one week when refrigerated
• Leafy herbs: seven to ten days when refrigerated
• Grapes, bananas, kiwis, pears, and mangos: five to seven days at room temperature
• Apples: three to four weeks when refrigerated
• Carrots, lemons, and limes: one month when refrigerated
• Spinach, peaches, and mushrooms: four to five days when refrigerated
As a rule of thumb, meat should never be consumed if it has a pungent odor, unusual sticky/slimy texture, or greenish brown color. Even if these more obvious, stomach-churning symptoms of spoiled meat aren’t apparent, a person should always check the expiration date on the package and keep track of how long leftover meat has been sitting in the fridge. These are the general lifespans of refrigerated meat:
• Cooked seafood (fish and shellfish): one to two days
• Lunch meat: two weeks unopened, three to five days opened
• Chicken: one to two days uncooked, three to four days cooked
• Steaks or chops: two to three days uncooked, three to four days cooked
• Ground beef: one to two days uncooked, three to four days cooked
• Processed meat (hotdogs and sausage): two weeks unopened, one week opened
American dairy products should be refrigerated. American and Canadian pasteurization uses a method called high-temperature short-time pasteurization, while the rest of the world uses a method called ultra-heat-treated-pasteurization. Basically, American milk has a shorter shelf life, so it’s important to keep an eye on the expiration date listed on all dairy products. Here’s the shelf life for refrigerated dairy products:
• Butter: one to three months
• Hard cheeses (such as Cheddar or Swiss): six months unopened, three to four weeks opened
• Soft cheese (such as Brie or Bel Paese): one week
• Eggs: five weeks raw, one week hard-boiled
• Margarine: six months
• Milk: one to two weeks
Premature food spoilage, unnecessary contamination, and excessive waste can be avoided by taking just a few extra steps in the kitchen. Herbs, for example, can last up to twice as long when refrigerated, trimmed, and placed upright in a shallow cup of water. Almost anything can be pickled, drastically increasing the foods lifespan. Veggie leftovers can be the foundation for a delicious home-made broth, and berries always last longer with a quick vinegar bath. There are plenty of expert chef-curated resources to help improve safety, decrease waste, and mix things up in the kitchen.