WASHINGTON — Spring cleaning your refrigerator, freezer and pantry will help assure you don’t waste food that’s no longer palatable, but most old food is not likely to make you sick.
“Food poisoning bacteria doesn’t grow in the freezer. So, no matter how long a food is frozen, it will be safe to eat,” said Marianne Gravely, a technical information specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s meat and poultry hotline.
In the refrigerator, most foods that will spoil won’t make you sick, but Gravely believes you wouldn’t want to eat it.
“If you see mold or something slimy or there’s a bad smell, that’s a sign of spoilage,” Gravely said. “It probably won’t make you sick. But everyone’s different — you might have a more sensitive stomach.”
Bacteria that can make you sick can grow slowly in the refrigerator.
Listeria monocytogenes is found in processed foods such as lunch meats, hot dogs, soft cheeses and prepared salads from the deli.
“If you’ve bought lunch meat from the deli you want to use it within three to five days. Same thing with any kind of prepared salads,” Gravely said. “Soft cheeses, make sure they’re made with pasteurized milk.”
Gravely recommends paying special attention to “sell by” and “best by” dates for those items.
Dry goods will eventually go stale and lose flavor or maybe the favor will be odd. “It’s certainly not going to be an enjoyable meal,” Gravely said.
To avoid wasting food, Gravely recommends taking everything out of the pantry, wiping down the shelves and replacing items with the oldest items up front.
The USDA has an app that gives advice about how long many foods will stay safe in different environments. Find it here.
If you have questions and want to talk with someone the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline takes calls between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at 1-888-674-6854.
Answers from the USDA also are available online.