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

Updated on August 9, 2020
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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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