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Updated 20 September 2011

Dangers that lurk in your fridge

Ever been blown away by foul-smelling, mould-growing leftovers when you open your fridge? Time for a clean-up. Find out what you can keep and what you should definitely throw away.

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Ever been blown away by foul-smelling, mould-growing leftovers when you open your fridge?

Urgh. Time for a clean-up. But before you park the rubbish bin in front of the fridge, find out what you can keep and what you should definitely throw away.

Mouldy foods
There's no need to worry too much about the mouldy patch on that block of Cheddar cheese. If you're not too grossed out about it, you can simply cut off the mouldy section and still enjoy the rest of the cheese.

But if the cheese is actually covered in mouldy patches, it's probably best to just cut your losses, chuck it in the bin and add "cheese" to your shopping list. The same goes for firm fruits, vegetables and hard salami.

However, if mould has grown on other foods, such as luncheon meats, leftover meat and poultry, cooked pasta, casseroles, soft cheese, yoghurt, jams, bread or nuts, it's time to say goodbye.

Some moulds may cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems (that's why it's never a good idea to sniff mouldy foods). In the right conditions, a few moulds also produce so-called “mycotoxins” – poisonous substances that can make you sick. It's hard to tell just by looking at a mould whether it has produced toxins or not.

When a food shows heavy mould growth, chances are that the roots of the mould have penetrated the food deeply. More allergy-causing moulds could be present than meets the eye and it might be unsafe to eat.

Also, if dangerous toxins are indeed present, chances are that they've spread throughout the food. It's difficult for mould to penetrate dense foods – that's why hard cheese, hard salami and firm fruits and vegetables are generally safer.

Sour milk and yoghurt
It's pretty easy to tell when milk has gone sour: simply sniff at it. Another tell-tale sign is little flakes floating around in it.

While the pungent smell and the changed consistency is good enough reason for most people to ditch the milk, you might be wondering whether it's still okay to use.

If milk is a day or two past its sell-by date, it can still be safely consumed and it can still be used in milk-based recipes, such as pancakes. But as soon as you get that sour smell, it's better to just throw it away. Milk is just such an ideal growth medium for dangerous bacteria that one can never be too safe.

Also, if a yoghurt tub hasn't been opened, yoghurt past its sell-by date might also still be safe to eat. Note, however, that the yoghurt will gradually start to lose flavour, texture and nutrients. Eventually, it might also become unsafe to eat.

So, if it's one or two days past the sell-by date, have a go at it. But if it starts pushing a week or two, chuck the yoghurt in the bin. You'll be better off buying a fresh tub or two.

Smelly fish
You bought the fillet of kingklip, but just haven't had time to eat it. Is it still okay?

Fresh, uncooked fish is only good for one or two days in the fridge. If it's cooked, it should be okay for three to four days, but only if you heat it thoroughly before eating it.

But what if you can't remember when you bought it?

Well, then it's probably a good idea to get rid of the fish anyway. But if you need more confirmation, a strong "fishy" odour in your fridge is a tell-tale sign that fish has gone off.

Meat
Here's the important thing: meat might still look, smell and even taste fine, but it doesn't mean that it's safe to eat.

Always check expiry dates and don't use raw minced meat that's been in the fridge for more than two days and steaks or chops that have been in there for more than four. If the minced meat has been cooked, it should be okay for about four days.

If you can detect a slime layer on luncheon meat, if meat has an odour or has changed colour, it's a definite no-no. But long before these changes occur, the meat might already be shaky.

Grimy greens
At last, some good news: fruit and veggies that aren't in a perfect, plump condition any more can still be used.

The best is to use the fruit/vegetables in cooked food, such as stews, soup or "potjiekos". The greens have merely lost their shape as a result of dehydration and natural enzymatic ageing.

By the time fruit and vegetables pose a health risk – in other words, when dangerous bacteria are present or when there's substantial mould growth – you wouldn't be keen to eat them anyway. - (Carine van Rooyen, updated September 2012)

Reference:
- Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education (www.canfightbac.org)

Read more:
VISUAL GUIDE: Storing food in the fridge
General food safety

 
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