Stop Spoilage This Summer Before It Starts

by Jane Wangersky | July 11th, 2014 | Cooking Basics

refrigerator-70580_640It’s always seemed to me that in summer, even food in the refrigerator spoils faster. This makes no sense, of course, as the whole idea of refrigeration is maintaining a constant, reliable cold temperature. If spoilage spikes in summer, it’s probably due to something I’m doing to the food while it’s passing to and from the fridge, so let’s look at what I — and maybe you — could be doing better.

I looked up information for this article on and the USDA site, and was surprised by some of what I learned. (Did you known an unopened package of hot dogs or lunch meat keeps twice as long as an opened one? But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

It starts as soon as you take cold food out of the case at the store. Ideally, this should be just before checkout. It can be hard to choose your other groceries without knowing what meats they have to go with, but you can look through the meat department and decide, then come back for it later. Make sure your meat goes into a plastic bag, even if you use cloth bags for everything else, because dripping onto other food can cause contamination.

You need to go right home from the store and get everything in the fridge within two hours — one hour if it’s 90° or above. If it’s that hot, you may even want to use a cooler and ice packs, says the USDA. (Word to the wise — double check the trunk of your car, things do fall out of bags. You don’t want to discover five pounds of hamburger in your car days later, and I speak from experience.)

Ground meat and poultry should go straight into the freezer unless you’re using them within two days. Other raw meat’s fine up to four or five days. Cooked meat can have a much longer fridge life if you don’t open the package till you need it. For other foods, including leftover pizza, read this chart.

There are times when you just can’t save something — if you eat it, it’ll make you sick at the very least. How do you know? Don’t rely on your sense of smell, and definitely not your sense of taste — food can be spoiled without tasting or smelling “off”. If it’s been around too long, according to the guidelines, it’s most likely no good anymore. It may seem wasteful to go by “when in doubt, throw it out”, but it’s a choice between that and your family’s health. If your area has a green waste program for food scraps, at least you’ll know that your spoiled food is being put to some use.

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