What’s that smell?! The low-down on telling whether or not your once fresh and bountiful produce is still edible.

It happened today around 3:30 pm, a hankering for a delicious, social network post worthy smoothie.   I opened the fridge and began digging round for a mish-mosh of vitamin packed veggies and fruits to blend together into a smoothie that will, god willing, yield a vibrant color I can enhance with LoFi and post to every social media outlet.

During my rummaging some questions came to mind; how long ago did I buy that? How much mold really is too much mold? What’s that smell?

After settling on some questionable strawberries and spinach that left something to be desired, I blended (after taking about thirty pictures of my ingredients pre and post blend and feeling superior to everyone having chips or popcorn for a snack) and decided to get to the bottom of these questions I haven’t had the guts to look into.  I have a sneaking suspicion I’ve eaten something spoiled from every food group, secretly I hope you have too, and here are my findings.

Info gathered from the USDA website http://www.fsis.usda.gov/

#1 fact learned: one rotten apple does not spoil the bunch! Just because you find one spoiled fruit in your bunch doesn’t mean everything else in the bag has gone bad, depending on your gag reflex you can, in theory, eat every other piece of fruit immediately and be fine.  My tactic: freeze, blend, and give away everything you can.

Our first question, how much mold is too much mold?!   Cue gag reflex, mold isn’t like bacteria which is too small to be seen, mold is made up of so many cells which form roots that burrow into your produce and sprout stalks with spores above the surface they can be seen with the naked eye.  Credit where credit is due I must admit the USDA did find a beautiful way of describing how these spores spread “When airborne, the spores spread the mold from place to place like dandelion seeds blowing across a meadow.”  Lovely.

Okay, mold is gross, but is it dangerous? It can cause allergic responses and respiratory problems and some carry mycotoxins that are poisonous and make you sick.  If you find a moldy food item DO NOT SNIFF IT, that’s what it wants you to do.   Properly discard or use the moldy food, clean the area of the fridge where you found it and check the rest of your food, we don’t want a bunch of dandelions popping up all over the place!

Here is your guide on handling moldy foods:

  •  lunch meats, bacon, hot dogs DISCARD
  • hard salami and dry-cured country hams USE (scrub off that mold and don’t tell anyone!)
  • cooked leftover meat DISCARD
  • cooked casseroles DISCARD
  • cooked grain and pasta DISCARD
  •  hard cheese USE (I’ve heard it tastes better ;] simply cut one inch around and below mold spot, don’t touch the knife to any of the mold due to cross-contamination, and re wrap a little tighter this time)
  •  soft cheeses DISCARD
  •  yogurt, sour cream, jams, jellies DISCARD (that wasn’t a tasty bit of avocado in my sour cream as it turns out)
  •  peanut butter, legumes, nuts, bread and baked goods DISCARD (my god the mold I’ve eaten)
  • soft fruits and veggies such as cucumbers and peaches DISCARD
  • hard (hehe) fruits and veggies such as carrots and cabbage USE (cut around it one inch just like the cheese taking care not to cross-contaminate and ask the person that consumes it if they think it was aged appropriately).

Next, expiration dates, does anyone really follow them? Well as it turns out you should, for a more lengthy list of the food-borne pathogens that can be lurking in expired or improperly stored food go to the USDA website.  From that list a few I could actually pronounce and recognize were: staph infection, salmonella (over 2,300 types WOWZA), and noroviruses.

To avoid illness, make sure all your products have expiration/packing dates and if they don’t, use a Sharpie and write the date you bought it.  Trust me I just started doing this and I already feel better than everyone else.

A cursory glance at my refrigerator and I found these guidelines most helpful based on what was in there

  • leftovers, cooked veggies, soups and stews, 3-4 days
  • cooked chicken or turkey 1-2 days; opened package of lunch meat 3-5 days unopened 2 weeks
  • hamburger and ground meats 1-2 days
  • bacon 7 days

According to the USDA the golden rule is “when in doubt throw it out!” If it’s slimy, smelly, or, damn, you just can’t remember where that came from, toss it.

Finally, what is that smell?  After employing visual check for mold, checking the expiration date, and it smells kind of funny, ask a loved one.  If they agree it stinks and it’s not some paranoid delusion in your head, toss it and store it better next time! I’ll still love you :] I promise.