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Contaminated Food in the Refrigerator - to Keep or Not to Keep - That Is the Question

Updated on August 9, 2020
vocalcoach profile image

Prevent food poisoning at home by following these tips for expiration dates.

How Long Does Food Last In The Refrigerator?

Food in the fridge - keep it, or toss it?  If in doubt, throw it out.
Food in the fridge - keep it, or toss it? If in doubt, throw it out. | Source

How long Has This Been Going On?

The other day I was in the mood for a delicious tuna salad. I like to use romaine lettuce for the " bed ", then pile albacore tuna, celery, carrots, diced apples and beets on the lettuce - toss with a little ginger and lightly spray my homemade sesame seed/olive oil dressing.

As I reached into the vegetable bin in my fridge, I found 2 packages of romaine lettuce. One was still sealed and the other had been opened and only 2 large leaves remained in the package. I questioned the safety of using the leftover leaves. My son assured me it would be ok. I asked him how he knew the leaves were safe to eat and he said they were safe because they looked ok and smelled ok.

Well, that wasn't good enough for me. And what does an upright bass player and Luthier know about food safety anyhow? No, I'm not going to tell you what a Luthier is. Look it up in the dictionary and you can thank me later for adding a new word to your vocabulary.

Anyhow, my salad would have to be put on hold for a few minutes, until I found the answer to the questionable romaine lettuce sitting in the crisper. After some careful checking on food safety, this is what I learned:

  • If the lettuce has been refrigerated for 1 week, it will begin to turn brown. Time to toss it out.

Since not a hint of brown was on the lettuce and it wasn't slimy (eeeeuuuu), nor did it smell, I went ahead and used it and enjoyed every last bite of my salad.

Then I started wondering about the safety of my other food items.

How Long Will Orange Juice Last In The Fridge ?

O.J stored unopened  in the refrigerator will still be good 7-10 days past  the “best by” date.   If opened before that date, the juice will be safe and tasty for 7 days after opening, if refrigerated. (Write the date you open it on the carton)
O.J stored unopened in the refrigerator will still be good 7-10 days past the “best by” date. If opened before that date, the juice will be safe and tasty for 7 days after opening, if refrigerated. (Write the date you open it on the carton) | Source

Refrigerator Temperature Setting

I had not given much thought to the temperature in my refrigerator. I just assumed that if I turned the temperature dial toward cold my food would be fine. Then I learned an important fact. The temperature must be set at 40 degrees F or lower to protect most of my food. I immediately purchased a thermometer and attached it to the inside wall of my fridge. It read 45 degrees F. I immediately adjusted the temperature and have noticed a difference ever since. The lettuce now lasts longer as do other products.

As far as bacteria goes, two kinds exist.

  • Pathogenic - This type of bacteria comes from temperatures being between 40 degrees F and 140 Degrees F. The thing I dislike about this type of bacteria is, you can't smell or taste that it's bad. It appears to be ok. So a person can get sick and not even know it until it's too late.

A few years ago I took a trip to Las Vegas and on the way home I stopped at a buffet to have dinner. I ended up with a severe case of food poison. It was so bad I actually wanted to die. And I just about did. Some Buffett's are notorious for spreading Pathogenic bacteria because the serving bins are not kept hot enough, or cold enough.

  • Spoilage - This type of bacteria is obvious to spot as it looks bad and tastes bad. It is born from low temperatures. Most all of us have been able to spot this type of bacteria.

Be very careful about leaving food out on the counter as it can appear to be fine, but is actually dangerous to eat. And remember to disinfect countertops after food (especially meat, fish or chicken) has been left out.

The best natural product for killing bacteria is vinegar. Use apple cider vinegar or white vinegar. I simply pour vinegar into a small spray bottle, and my disinfectant is always ready to use and close at hand. I just spray a little on the infected area, let it sit for a few minutes and scrub. Vinegar is all natural, without harsh chemicals and it's good for the environment.

Foods You've Been Storing Wrong in The Frigerator

What About Those Expiration Dates?

Purchase food products before the "sell by" or expiration dates.

Do you know that the only food required by law to be labeled for an expiration date is baby formula and baby foods? This was news to me. After checking on a few foods and their expiration dates this is what I found:

  • Milk. I like almond milk which needs to be used up within 7-10 days after opening. Regular milk will last a week after the "sell by" date.
  • If you're an egg eater they'll be safe for 3-5 weeks providing you purchase them by the "sell by" date.
  • Chicken and seafood should be used within a day or two.
  • Pork and beef are fine if cooked or frozen 3-5 days after purchase.

Be sure to follow food handling directions and always wash your hands before and after handling food.

Food Expiration Chart

Eggs - 4 -5 weeks Refrigerate
Hot Dogs - 2 weeks Unopened package
Mayonnaise - 2 months Refrigerate
Meat - 3-5 days
Milk - 3-5 days after "use" date
Bacon - 7 days Refrigerate
Raw Hamburger 2-3 days Refrigerate
Poultry 1-2 days Refrigerate
Cooked Fish - 3-4 days Refrigerate
Meat Leftovers - 3-4 days Refrigerate


I swear that when my refrigerator is well-cleaned and sparkling (I use vinegar) the food tastes better. Just remember to avoid leaving the food out too long on the kitchen counter when you clean. I often pop my food into an ice chest during cleaning periods to keep it nice and cold.

  • Remember to check your refrigerator temperature and keep it at 40 degrees F or lower.
  • Use white or apple cider vinegar to clean countertops and the refrigerator.
  • Use air-tight food containers for storing food. Glass is best.
  • Check expiration and use by dates on all packages and canned foods.

"If in doubt, throw it out!" - Audrey Hunt

© 2011 Audrey Hunt


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    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Sally's Trove - I'm so glad to see you Sally:) Thanks so much for the encouraging comment and the rating you've given me. Take care!

      Hi Bill - Gee, I'm not sure what is going on. I wrote this a while ago. But gosh, gee, I'm flying high to hear such a nice comment from you. Hugs, billy!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very useful my friend! I want to know why I don't get notifications of when you have published? I just happened to see this on Facebook. Not good at all; I want to know when you publish since you are a quality writer. Sigh!

      Anyway, very good information and I thank you!

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Excellent, to-the-point article about food storage and safety. Up, useful, and pinned. :)

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      @jeannieinabottle - My son does the same thing as you. He checks the date and even if the food has expired, eats it anyway. :-) He never gets sick! I recently learned that if yogurt is stored upside down its good several days after the expiration date. Thanks so much!

      @ardie - I had no idea that one bad piece of food in the refrigerator would contaminate everything else too. Wow! I'm really glad to know this. I sure hope others read your comments here.

      @bronterae - are a bass teacher. Great! I'm glad you like my hub and hope to see you again real soon.

      @tammyswallow - I'm like you - when in doubt, throw it out. I refuse to play "russian roulette" with anything living in the refrigerator or otherwise. Do check the temp of your refrigerator. Thanks Tammy!

      @tsmog - Love your great comments. Giggled and laughed with delite. And for the record I so enjoy long comments. Especially ones like yours. I'm a happy camper knowing you liked my hub. A big thank you!

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Hi Marcy - So great to see you here. Thanks for commenting. And it was precisely because I was concerned about how long I could leave food in the fridge that led me to research this subject.

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 

      9 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Nice Hub VocalCoach. Not knowing, challenged to know, and meowing with curiosity I looked up Luthier. TY, A lot of good information here. It points to planning too.

      I know my fridge causes feelings of guilt on Thur when I clean it. "Now why didn't I eat that. I bought too much. Oh no, I forgot about that and wanted to eat it. Darn, that was good & my neighbor's generosity was warm too!" are conjured.

      Now I am thinking about "Do You Speak Manguage" by RealHouseWife realizing I am leaving a long comment. Go figure. You never know what you learn here at hubpages. And, this article packs a punch hitting close to home. Thanks! Well written, humorous, and thought provoking.

    • Bronterae profile image


      9 years ago from Nor Cal

      I knew what a luthier is! I teach on what he makes, but you told everybody already. :(

      Great hub for those of us who are constantly wondering if we should eat it.

    • Ardie profile image


      9 years ago from Neverland

      Here is my comment because that little pooch looks like he means business! I am super paranoid about the contents of my fridge and expiration dates. I read a fact somewhere that stated that almost ALL cases of "stomach bug" are really due to eating contaminated/spoiled foods. One bad piece of food in your fridge can contaminate the other foods! Anyways, I really appreciate this Hub because now I can make sense of my foods instead of just tossing them all out even when they look perfectly fine :)

    • tammyswallow profile image


      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Great advice Vocal Coach. I follow the golden rule of food, when in doubt, throw it out. Sadly, I learned this the hard way. Thanks for these tips. I have never once in my life considered the temperature on my refrigerator. Ahh!!!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      9 years ago from Planet Earth

      I worry about old foods (the ones I can't pinpoint on dates, etc.). This is a helpful hub - thanks for publishing! Voted up and useful.

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie Marie 

      9 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      This is very useful information. I tend to eat food from my fridge that I probably should not. I look at the date, see it has gone past it, still eat it, and hope for the best. Sometimes that is a really bad idea. Thanks for the info. Voted up!

    • Rusticliving profile image

      Liz Rayen 

      9 years ago from California

      Loved the fact that you addressed correct temperature of your fridge. Having worked in the retail and food industry for many years, it is VERY important to keep your fridge ( freezer) at the correct temp. It's amazing how much we don't know or see and take everything for granite that food can't spoil. Living in Hawaii for 20 years taught me this as well.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      rwelton - Gosh...we must have grown up about the same time. I vividly remember the bacon grease on the back of the stove and we had the very same recipe for "Oreo" cookies. How fun, to meet a buddy from "the good old days". vc

    • rwelton profile image


      9 years ago from Sacramento CA a kid there was always a Folger's coffee can full of bacon grease on the back of the stove for all purpose frying and we thought nothing of it - I never saw it cleaned or replaced, just added to...

      ...our own homemade "Oreo" cookies were two slices of white bread spread with lard and a double helping of sugar...


    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Wasting food bothers me, as I grew up in a very poor family and lived on bread and gravy for what seemed like an eternity. And the gravy was mostly flour and lard, alth on a special occasion bacon grease was used. Thanks for your valuable comments.

    • rwelton profile image


      9 years ago from Sacramento CA

      vocalcoach...regardless of how much disposable income or not a family may have, wasting good money on spoiled food does no one any good. I HATE to throw out food that is past it's peak...not everything can be sent to the squishy, dark-brown banana now-its-bread food repair shop. I have kept a thermometer in the door of the fridge since it was called an icebox...ha.

      I had a pretty good idea about who a luthier was...but I had no challenge in relating to the 'up-tight bass player'...


    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Tamarajo - I seem to have a more sensitive digestive system than when I was younger. It seems like I could eat anything back then, and never be bothered by it. But now it's a different story. And I hope you never ever get

      food's the worst imaginable. Thanks!

    • Tamarajo profile image


      9 years ago

      informative article. I hate wasting food so I have been guilty of eating questionable items from the fridge. I would hate to get food poisoning however. I will try to be more careful. your experience didn't sound very fun.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Thank you Hanna. I am especially careful as I get older. My tummy can't handle what it used to :)

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for all these tips. One can't be too careful with food.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      MPG - Actually, a Luthier is a specialist in repairing and building wooden musical instruments such as the Upright Bass. But your answer, "the lute" makes more sense :) Glad you liked the tips for refrigeration. Thanks so much!

    • diogenes profile image


      9 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hello VC. OK I know what a luthier is because Alex Delaware's SO, Robin, is one (Jonathan Kellerman's books). As you know, I live on baked beans which seem to last ever so long outside the fridge. I look OK on this diet, but am not invited to too many places due to unpleasant effluent ...Good hub and goodday...Bob

    • prasetio30 profile image


      9 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Nice and very useful information. I just wanna say "you had done a great job". I love our tips and the video above. Vote up!


    • Truckstop Sally profile image

      Truckstop Sally 

      9 years ago

      Great info! I did not know about vinegar being such a good cleanser. The video on storing meat was great too. I already store mine above the cripser, but not for the right reasons. Thanks for sharing.

    • Charlotte B Plum profile image

      Charlotte B Plum 

      9 years ago

      What a refreshing way to present a potentially dry topic. =) Really admire how you did it! Thank you for all the interesting and useful info!

    • funmontrealgirl profile image


      9 years ago from Montreal

      Very good information. I like that you don't just listen and look to find the answers. I have made the mistake of leaving something out overnight and been hungry and not wanted to throw it away when it is an expensive item. Like maybe a brand new rice milk I had opened. I have a nice fridge that keeps things cool but this is all very good to know. Voted up.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Green Lotus - I do like that quote 'tho ( when in doubt, throw it out ). I like the directions on my carton of soy milk and almond milk, " use within 7 days of opening ." Thanks, G.L.

    • Lita C. Malicdem profile image

      Lita C. Malicdem 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      If there are those who don't seem to mind what happens after stacking the food inside a ref, I'm one of them. I my use eyes to see, my nose to smell, and tongue to lick on suspected spoils. What an innocent waste I did then!

      This is embarrassing even more, but I don't use thermometer inside my fridge! The thermostat runs, just like that! You have lots of information I will observe from now on. I'm fun of green salads and love that tuna salad! The Romain looks crispy, and yummy, too! Voted up and useful. Thank you!

    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 

      9 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      When storing greens in the refrigerator, you will notice that if they are wet in the container they will go bad much quicker than if they are dry in the container. I have been vegetarian for decades and never had a problem with food that I prepared at home.

      I love the cabbage crunch salad made by Whole Foods. It contains red and green cabbage, scallions, sliced almonds, olive oil and apple cider vinegar. I bought some and sat down to eat there. I spit out my first bite and got my money back and watched them remove it from the salad bar. It was very easy to tell that it had gone bad.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      9 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is really good advice. I am the worst to put leftovers in the frig, then always throw them out. Thank's for sharing...

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Excellent information. I didn't know the fridge temp had to be 40 degrees or below. I'll have to check mine. I don't usually worry about fresh veggies; they last outside in the garden, right?

    • embee77 profile image


      9 years ago

      This is super, VC. Knowing I should keep the fridge temp at or below 40 is very helpful. Thanks for doing the research and reporting it in such an interesting way.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      9 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Your tuna salad sounds amazing! Thanks for all of the useful information. My general rule is that if it smells okay and hasn't been in the fridge longer than a week, I'll eat it. I am very careful about how I handle and prepare meats. I've been very fortunate never to have food poisoning.

    • Green Lotus profile image


      9 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Great information! It gives you a lot more to go by then the old adage, "when in doubt, throw it out"!

    • midnightbliss profile image

      Haydee Anderson 

      9 years ago from Hermosa Beach

      this is a very informative hub, thanks for sharing all this information that i haven't thought about before.

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 

      9 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi Audrey, I had no idea white vinegar was good for killing bacteria!

      Excellent information and tips here, thank you for sharing.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Denise - I'm on a high after reading your comments. And I need it, if I'm going to finish the hub challenge. I am sooooooo behind. Looks like I will be working through the next few nights :)

      Hyphenbird - Good morning! Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm so with you on the "don't eat meat" rule.

      While writing this hub, I researched for hours because I wanted the latest findings on this subject. I liked what I learned and am glad you do too.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      What a great subject for a hub, Audrey. Thanks for the useful info written with humor and research.

    • vocalcoach profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Hunt 

      9 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Hahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!! That's the funniest thing I have ever heard@! Can't stop laughing. Can't wait to tell my son that he's a dental assistant. :):):)

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      Important information, Audrey - I'm glad you took the time to share it with the rest of us. As to the meaning of 'luthier' - that's the dental assistant who works on a looth tooth. Right?

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 

      9 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      I have wondered these same things, to est or not to eat, that is the question....I usually eat. But we do not eat meat so that takes one potential mistake out of the mix. This Hub is very informational. Thanks

    • Marsha H profile image

      Marsha H 

      9 years ago from My Retro Kitchen in NY

      There's some good info here, and I keep a thermometer in both the fridge and freezer.

      But what I really wanted to say is... that tuna salad looks pos-O-tively delicious. :)

      +vote up

    • MPG Narratives profile image

      Maria Giunta 

      9 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      A lute repairer? Well now I know, thanks Vocalcoach.

      I had the same problem with a tomato left in the fridge with one slice taken out of it. It looked ok but was a little wrinkled. Like you I used it in a salad and enjoyed it but still wondered after whether I should have eaten it.

      Thanks for the great tips, voted up and useful.


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