Nothing undoes plans to cook dinner at home quite like discovering your fridge is full of expired food. It’s a double blow to your wallet because you have to throw out what you already spent money on and purchase something else to take its place. And because most people will be tempted to order out in this situation, there’s a good chance the meal will end up decidedly less healthy than what you had originally planned.
If you want to avoid tossing out half of the items you buy at the grocery store each week, you need to get smarter about different foods’ shelf lives. You’d be amazed at how fast some things go bad. You might want to keep a closer eye on these eight eats to avoid expired food.
1. Bagged lettuce
Packaged greens have fallen under a lot of scrutiny in recent years due to recalls involving harmful bacterial contamination. Even when a bag of baby spinach isn’t harboring listeria, you need to keep a close eye on the use-by date. According to Consumer Reports, bags that have several days to go often contain a lot of bacteria. The story said bagged lettuce that’s six to eight days away from expiration is far better. The packaging itself is also problematic. The plastic containers don’t allow any air circulation, which will leave you with slimy lettuce in no time. Epicurious recommends transferring the greens to a food storage container lined with paper towels.
2. Raw chicken
Since chicken is a staple, it’s usually a no-brainer to grab a package of breasts or thighs to keep in your refrigerator for the duration of a week. This isn’t a good idea, though. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service says you have to use the raw poultry in two days to prevent bacteria from growing. Keep in mind, you can always opt for the freezer. Take out what you need for the next day or two, then transfer any extras to airtight, zip-top bags to keep frozen for later use.
For some reason, a lot of us seem to buy milk without inspecting the use-by date. This is a serious no-no because pasteurized milk doesn’t last all that long. If your grocery store has a surplus, it’s easy to grab an expired carton or one that’s nearly past its prime. Generally speaking, milk lasts for less than a week. Something to consider: Organic milk has a much longer shelf life than the mass-produced stuff. Scientific American explains this is because the process used to treat organic milk is completely different. Regular pasteurization kills most bacteria while the ultrahigh processing used for organic eliminates all of it.
Because beer is a fermented product, most people wrongly assume it lasts indefinitely. Like with most other foods, it’s really best fresh. Southern Tier Brewing Company says while beer won’t spoil, the flavors change over time. This is particularly true with beers that derive a lot of flavor from hops. In most cases, they recommend polishing off the brews within six months of the bottling date. There are certain varieties that can benefit from a bit of aging, but they tend to be malt-forward brews like stouts.
5. Raw fish
When stocking up on seafood, you generally want to have a plan for how to use it. According to Real Simple, fresh fish only lasts for two days in the refrigerator. If you opt for clams, oysters, or mussels, you’re best off cooking them as soon as possible. These shellfish are still alive when you purchase them, and they deteriorate quickly once they die. Also be on the lookout for fish that was previously frozen. While it’s perfectly fine to eat thawed fish, you really don’t want to re-freeze. This provides too much opportunity for bacteria to start growing.
Delicious though they are, berries are a complete pain when it comes to storage. The Kitchn says berries usually only keep for about two days. As with lettuce, the packaging most of them come in can speed the trip to mold town even faster. Berries do much better when you allow them some room to breathe, so get them in a single layer as soon as possible. If you’re determined to avoid expired food for as long as possible, a hot water bath can actually help. It sounds bizarre, but The New York Times reports a 30-second swim in water around 140 degrees Fahrenheit can keep berries from going bad better than sending them straight to the fridge.
7. Corn on the cob
Fresh, five-day-old corn won’t make you sick, but it won’t taste very good. Fine Cooking explains the enzymes in freshly picked ears go to town on the sugars as soon as it’s picked. In just three days, the corn will be only half as sweet and delicious as it was when harvested. You also never want to buy pre-husked corn because the kernels dry out incredibly fast. Need longer term storage? Cook the corn in boiling water, cut it from the cob, then store it in your freezer inside of a zip-top bag.
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