Your kitchen also needs spring cleaning … for food safety

WASHINGTON — As the region slides into spring, it’s time to take a look at what’s really in your fridge and cupboards.

While it’s good to make sure you’re not using food that’s no longer palatable, most old food is not likely to make you sick.

“Food-poisoning bacteria don’t grow in the freezer. So, no matter how long a food is frozen, it will be safe to eat,” said Marianne Gravely, 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 according to Gravely, you still 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’s advice is to take everything out of the pantry, wipe down the shelves and organize items so that the oldest thing is up front.

The USDA has an app that gives advice about how long many foods will stay safe in different environments. And if you have any more questions, you can talk with someone through the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at 1-888-674-6854.

Answers from the USDA are also available online.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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