As an Austin culinary arts school student, you have access to many great farmers markets that offer delicious fresh ingredients. We’ve all had times when we went to grab a recently-purchased head of lettuce or carton of blueberries from the kitchen and found that they’d already started rotting. Read these tips to learn how to tell whether your meats, produce and dairy products are safe to eat or should be tossed in the trash.
When it comes to eating an item that may be a little old, you don’t want to mess around with meat. Eating deli slices, roast turkey and even shellfish that is a day or two past its prime can lead to E. coli and botulism. The best way to tell if meat is spoiled is to give it a good look and smell. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, not all meats that get darker are spoiled, as many change colors a bit as they are refrigerated or frozen. If the color is slightly tinged with green, however, it’s best to toss it in the trash.
It can also be helpful to take a whiff of the cut. Does it smell like iron or make you want to leap back in disgust? An iron smell is normal as it is a part of the blood in the meat, but any sort of funky scent means you will want to throw it out. You cannot cook, bake, roast, broil, grill or sautee the bacteria out of meat that has gone bad. Plus, you wouldn’t want to get yourself or your diners sick by serving cuts that are past their prime. Wondering about some freezer burned meat? This is perfectly safe to eat, but the white parts will be tasteless. Trim them off and cook as usual or opt for a fresh cut that hasn’t spent time in the freezer.
You’ve probably noticed that some veggies and fruits last longer than others. Lemons and limes, garlic, potatoes, winter squash and apples can all last from several weeks to even a few months if properly stored. Berries, tomatoes and leafy greens like lettuce and basil go bad more more quickly – within a few days. One of the main reasons produce goes bad is because it is exposed to ethylene. Avocados, nectarines, bananas, plums, tomatoes, pears and peaches all emit this gas, which can speed up the rotting process of their crisper-drawer neighbors. Store the aforementioned items outside of the fridge to avoid this. It’s pretty easy to tell if produce has started to go bad. It tends to darken in color (think brown bananas, dark green spinach) and become slimy and droopy. Some types, like berries, will even grow obvious mold within a few days after you’ve purchased them. Some people store leafy greens with paper towels to mop up the moisture and extend their lifespan. You can also purchase special products that are said to help remove the ethylene from the air in your fridge, making your produce last longer.
It’s pretty obvious when dairy products are past their prime. Milk becomes chunky and develops a strong odor. Cream cheese may be covered in pink or green mold. When purchasing dairy items, always check the use-by date. Grocery store employees are usually good about rotating the milks to make sure they aren’t selling cartons that have gone bad or will in the next day or two, but occasionally one slips by. If you’re unsure about whether a dairy product is edible, don’t pour it directly onto your cereal or spread it on toast. Take a whiff of the carton or tub. If it smells, toss it – you don’t want to get food poisoning from eating spoiled milk, yogurt, cream cheese or other dairy products.