How not to give your friends food poisoning: nine easy tips! Part 3: Well the sour cream is already sour, so…. The rules of dairy

We cleaned out the fridge this weekend at casa de Starter Kitchen, and WOW. Four twenty-somethings sharing a fridge means no one is responsible for that five-month-old package of cream cheese, or the yellow milk, or the mysterious cheese in a Tupperware container that may not have been blue cheese to begin with, but is now. Apparently, dairy products simply flock to our fridge when they reach retirement age, like our own little sour cream Florida.

 

My father always claimed that the sell-by-dates were just friendly suggestions – as long as they were purchased by that date, they were good for another month, or until his taste-test revealed that even he of the iron stomach and dead taste buds couldn’t stifle the reflex to spit out the offending food. So when does dairy food turn? How can you tell? And what the heck is that smell anyway?

 

Milk and cream: The time it takes for milk to spoil depends largely on its fat content. Skim milk is much higher in lactose, which turns to lactic acid as the product ages, and lactic acid promotes spoiling. The general rule for skim milk is no more than five days after the expiration date. It might still be safe to drink – but it might not. One percent milk buys you an extra day, 2% can stretch you to day seven, and whole milk and creams, if they have been kept in closed containers in the fridge, should be dumped after day eight.

 

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How not to give your friends food poisoning: Part Two: Should that be green? Molds, mildews, and fungus

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(This is Part Two in a nine-part series on How Not To Give Your Friends (or Yourself) Food Poisoning and can also be found at Shine Foods)

In 1984, Barry Marshall grew a little H. pylori in his fridge, ate it, and went down in history for discovering that the source of stomach ulcers was bacterial.

I do not recommend this.

You can grow all kinds of interesting things in your fridge and food cabinets. Some foods, including the stinkier cheeses of the world, get flavor from mold cultures. Others, such as bread, should really not be green. 

That thin snowy layer on top of that old cup of coffee? The thin green film on your bread? The gray fur on that old, forgotten Indian food? Mold. Molds are microscopic fungi that live on the surfaces of plant and animal matter. They travel by releasing spores that are pretty much everywhere, and are usually harmless. However, some molds release toxins that can cause serious food poisoning and respiratory problems, and it is impossible to tell the innocuous from the dangerous by sight.

No matter what your dad or gross brothers were willing to eat out of the fridge, you should not just scrape off the mold and eat the parts that “look okay.” The mold that you see on the surface is actually just the spores from the mold. When mold colonizes a food, it sends long, thin roots that you can’t see deep down into its host. So even if the pretty colors have been scraped away, you could still be eating potentially poisonous toxins. 

There are a few exceptions:

  • Many cheeses, including Roquefort, blue, Gorgonzola, Stilton, Brie, and Camembert are created by intentionally introducing molds that are safe to eat.
  • Hard cheeses with surface mold can still be eaten if you cut off at least one inch below the growth. Mold roots generally cannot grow deeper than 1 inch below the spores on hard cheeses.

Molds and mildew may also form in damp areas of your kitchen – the bottom of your fridge, under the sink, and in the crisper. In extreme cases, touching and inhaling these growths can cause allergies, headaches, nausea, asthma, fatigue. Because molds release spores into the air that may settle on other foods even once you’ve cleaned out the offending items, you want to do your best to prevent those little fuzzy gardens from growing in the first place.

  • Clean the inside of the refrigerator every few months with 1 tbsp. of baking soda dissolved in a quart of water.
  • Scrub off any visible mold (usually black gunk) with bleach or vinegar (I recommend using the vinegar recipe found here, since many chemical mold killers contain chlorine bleach, which, when mixed with water, can form hydrochloric acid, which is fatal if swallowed and can cause chemical burns).
  • Keep sponges and dishrags clean – if they smell musty, you’re just spreading the mold around.
  • Keep foods in the fridge covered with plastic wrap or tinfoil.

If you have mold:

  • Wrap food items in a plastic bag and throw away immediately. I know there is a temptation to keep it around and see what happens, but, no.
  • DO NOT SNIFF THE  MOLDY FOOD. Why do people do this? Mold spores can cause serious respiratory problems, so sniffing the food is not a good idea. If you can see the mold, it’s bad, no matter what it smells like. You’re going to sniff it anyway, aren’t you? Fine. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

How not to give your friends food poisoning: Part 1: Maybe the beans just needed some air… Botulism is bad – what to check for when using canned goods

So you’re running a little low on cash. Alright, maybe you aren’t, but I sure am, and canned goods are a cheap, usually healthy option to get me the through the week. But how do you know what is safe to to eat? Will that dent on the side kill you? Or just save you a few pennies?

The concern with dented cans is Botulism. Botulism is a spore-forming bacteria that forms in oxygen-free environments with low acidity and releases toxins that cause causes blurred vision, dilated pupils, droopy eyelids, sore mouth and throat, muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, and major muscle weakeness and paralysis. Sympotms usually develop within 12-36 hours after consuming contaminated food. Thanks to improvements in canning processes, botulism poisoning is rare, but it can be life-threatening.

What should you look for?

  • Cans with small dents along the side are generally still safe; however, deep dents, especially near the seams of the can, should always be avoided.
  • Always stay away from cans that are leaking or bulging – these are clear signs that the seals have been broken and botulism contamination is likely.
  • If a can explodes when you open it, throw it out immediately and carefully clean up the mess with soap and water.

If you suspect botulism poisoning, go to your local emergency room immediately.

When it comes to swollen or broken cans the rule is always when in doubt, throw it out.

Bonus Tip: Not going to use the whole can? Store opened canned goods in a sealed plastic container. According to the Food Standards Agency, “when a can has been opened and the food is open to the air, the tin may transfer more quickly to the can’s contents.”

What Not to Eat: Ramen Noodles.

What not to eat – the weekly feature wherein we check out what’s in some of your favorite junk foods. Read at your own risk! 

Alright, I know we all have joyful cup-of-soup memories. When I was a young kitcheneer, my friends and I used to come home from high school, cook up a few flavors of Ramen Noodles, and be happy as – well, as happy as teenagers can actually be.

But what exactly is in those dried bricks of noodles and mysterious foil flavor packets?

The Noodles: Just empty carbs? Actually, no. Many brands of Ramen Noodles are deep fried before being dried and packaged. The oils used in the frying process are usually the of cheap trans-fat variety, and we all know by now that trans fats are linked with high cholesterol, cancer, and heart disease. Recent reports have also indicated that trans fats may also change how your cells process insulin and therefore can increase the incidence of diabetes.

The Flavor Packet. This is a problem. The salty broth-mix in Top Ramen contains the following:

MSG (monosodium glutamate). The doctors are out on MSG – it caused a big scare in the 90s, but few studies have shown any conclusive evidence that MSG will cause long-term health issues. That said, MSG may trigger an allergic reaction in 1 to 2 percent of the population that includes migraines, flushing, and muscle pain.

Sodium. One Cup of Soup can contain up to 830 milligrams of sodium, which is almost 40% of your reccomended daily value. Even if you don’t have blood-pressure problems, that kind of salt intake will leave you bloated and sluggish for a day or two.

Fat. Each serving contains 11 grams of fat – almost 20% of your RDV if  you are on a 2000 calorie a day diet. That’s a lot of fat for flavored powder and noodles.