When Good Food Goes Bad

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When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Jorpho » Mon Nov 02, 2009 12:01 am UTC

Just what are the risks of eating food that, having been in your fridge for too long, has developed spots or fuzziness?

Obviously the flavor and texture might get a little mixed up. But it's hardly going to kill you or even bother your digestive system - is it?
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Nath » Mon Nov 02, 2009 12:31 am UTC

Jorpho wrote:Just what are the risks of eating food that, having been in your fridge for too long, has developed spots or fuzziness?

Obviously the flavor and texture might get a little mixed up. But it's hardly going to kill you or even bother your digestive system - is it?

Depends on the food, and the nature of the spots or fuzziness. It's probably some sort of fungus. Rotten meat is probably more dangerous than fungified vegetables or bread etc., but I wouldn't recommend either.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby poxic » Mon Nov 02, 2009 1:17 am UTC

Something bacterial has taken hold of the food and started to proliferate on it, using the food for, well, food. Whatever it is might be harmless to you, or it might not. You could take a sample into a biolab and ask for testing, or you could just not take the gamble and throw it out.

I'd agree with Nath that things that thrive on meat will probably also thrive on you, so avoid that. Things that thrive on veggies or fruit might also find you tasty, or not. I usually err on the side of caution. One exception for me is hard cheese, since it's probably the same mold it's grown in, which is mostly harmless to humans. (I'll cut off that part, though.)

Edited to add: a friend once said that green mold isn't so bad for you. Pink mold, now that's bad for you. He isn't a biologist/doctor/epidemiologist/whatnot, so YMMV.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Amarantha » Mon Nov 02, 2009 2:15 am UTC

"If in doubt, throw it out." Sure, you might eat it and be OK. Or you might eat it and become sick enough to regret it. Unless you're starving to death, it's not worth the risk. The bacteria found in decaying food are not only unappetising, they also excrete toxins. So even if you scrape off the obvious mould, and cook the bejeezus out of the leftovers to kill any living organisms, you could still be eating poison. You probably won't die, but you might wish you had.

Exception - I'll usually cut the mould off the outside of cheese, since it doesn't usually penetrate into the cheese, and most cheese moulds are related to the edible cheese moulds anyway. But while I'm willing to eat it, I probably wouldn't serve a de-moulded cheese to anyone else, just in case.


edit - ninja'd by poxic :P
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Mon Nov 02, 2009 2:34 am UTC

Another rule of thumb: "single" foods are safer than mixed foods. For example: ham, cheese, pineapple, and bread kept separate are "safer" than Hawaiian pizza. There will be bacteria in the meat that will thrive on the moisture in the pineapple. Similarly, if you make a stir fry and keep some for later, store it separately to the rice/noodles you have with it. The stir fry has lots of bacteria, and the rice/noodles have lots of water, which will mean crazy breeding times if you mix them.

So, moldy bread is safer than moldy pizza. Moldy cheese is safer than a cheese sandwich you made a week ago. Etc.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby PAstrychef » Mon Nov 02, 2009 2:42 am UTC

Depending on the product and the type of organism growing on it it could well kill you or at least make you wish you were dead. While not that many people die from food related toxicity each year and most of those are connected with professional food handlers, plenty spend time they didn't need to on the crapper.
Cheese is a pretty safe food, remove the obvious mold and you'll be ok.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Jorpho » Mon Nov 02, 2009 4:15 am UTC

Oh yes, I wouldn't even think of eating moldy meat, but considering all my meat is frozen or at least marked with an unambiguous expiry date, that's hardly a concern.

I'm more concerned about my fresh vegetables (i.e. vegetables that used to be fresh).
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Amarantha » Mon Nov 02, 2009 9:48 am UTC

If vegies are a bit limp or wrinkly, they're probably OK. If they're slimy, smelly, mouldy, corroded etc, chuck 'em. If they're dodgy on one end and seem OK on the other, you might be able to use the good part, but check it carefully first.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Bakemaster » Mon Nov 02, 2009 9:28 pm UTC

Carrots, especially baby carrots, often start to get slimy after not too long in the fridge, and are still edible but just wanting for a wash/light scrub with baking soda. Now, if they turn brown and soft, those parts are no good, but that takes a lot longer.

Fruits get brown spots that are fine to eat, though sometimes unpleasant. My rule of thumb is that a bad spot on fruit that's at least as big as a peanut gets cut out, anything less gets eaten. Sometimes I'll cook with fruit that's well past that point, particularly bananas.

Leafy greens tend to turn colors—kale gets yellow patches, for instance. That's okay, as long as it's not slimy or foul-smelling. Spinach, especially baby spinach, likes to get slimy and gross in spots if you don't use it relatively soon after buying it. Just throw away the bits that have lost their firmness and turned colors, and wash the rest off, unless it's gotten to the point where the whole bag smells off and more than about 20% is clearly rotten... At that point I'd admit that I have wronged my spinach, and send it to a better place.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Jorpho » Mon Nov 02, 2009 10:22 pm UTC

Speculation and "common sense" are all well and good, but I want to know: what can sliminess and discoloredness really do to a healthy digestive system?
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby poxic » Mon Nov 02, 2009 10:27 pm UTC

Make you poop a lot, and possibly throw up too. (That's what happens when your body realises it's harbouring something unpleasant and decides to remove it forthwith.)
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Bakemaster » Mon Nov 02, 2009 11:21 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:Speculation and "common sense" are all well and good, but I want to know: what can sliminess and discoloredness really do to a healthy digestive system?

Well, unless you're prepared to seek an extensive education in food science or medicine, which I hear can be a bit pricey these days, I guess your options are A) eat a bunch of slimy, discolored food, or B) make someone else eat it.

Seriously, you eat rotten food, you get food poisoning. There are plenty of different flavors. Some of them can and will kill you. Meat is likely to harbor worse things, but anything that could be in meat, could be in your veggies too, because of the state of the food industry. They don't even really have to be rotten in some cases. Unfortunately, speculation and common sense—backed up by observation and the advice of actual scientists—are the only weapons you've got. Not to mention they're damn sure the only things you're going to get from an internet forum, given that you have no real ability to distinguish what's bullshit and what isn't, except by using more common sense.

Maybe the xkcd forum really is full of super smart scientists. Maybe we've all got a Ph.D. in telling you exactly what you need to know. Even if that were the case, you'd have no way of knowing it. If all you want is to feel like we gave you science to keep you safe, please, spare us the trouble and just go ask Google and Wikipedia.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Belial » Tue Nov 03, 2009 12:56 pm UTC

Unfortunately, speculation and common sense—backed up by observation and the advice of actual scientists—are the only weapons you've got.


They're also your oldest ones. I'm not usually one to play the "lol instincts and evolutionary psychology" card, but being descended from wide-ranging omnivores that basically ate whatever, our instincts and systems for determining safe from dangerous with reference to food is going to be pretty sophisticated. Now, granted, half of that system is the "if this makes my stomach churn or my vision swim, I'm going to vomit it up and develop a strong aversion to ever eating it again*" failsafe, but our general revulsion for certain states of rot probably plays a part.

*True story, taste aversion is the only kind of conditioning that only requires one instance to set in: if you eat a food and then immediately vomit (soon enough after eating it to associate the stimuli unconsciously) you will develop an aversion to it immediately, and likely have involuntary reactions ranging from revulsion to nausea upon attempting to eat it again. This is why I couldn't eat pigs-in-a-blanket for years. It's also why a wolf pack that's chowed down on a sheep full of ipecac will avoid sheep like the little bastards were made out of bees.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Decker » Tue Nov 03, 2009 1:34 pm UTC

Belial wrote:True story, taste aversion is the only kind of conditioning that only requires one instance to set in: if you eat a food and then immediately vomit (soon enough after eating it to associate the stimuli unconsciously) you will develop an aversion to it immediately, and likely have involuntary reactions ranging from revulsion to nausea upon attempting to eat it again. This is why I couldn't eat pigs-in-a-blanket for years. It's also why a wolf pack that's chowed down on a sheep full of ipecac will avoid sheep like the little bastards were made out of bees.
The man speaks truth. I myself have a strong aversion to Lipton noodles because of one instance of me puking a LOT after eating some. That was about five or six years ago and I STILL don't want to eat them.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Belial » Tue Nov 03, 2009 2:00 pm UTC

What's funny is that in my case, it actually had absolutely *zero* to do with the food I ate. I apparently had had a stomach flu that had been incubating for a couple days, and chose "immediately after dinner" to come to a head.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Decker » Tue Nov 03, 2009 2:04 pm UTC

I'm pretty sure there isn't much in Lipton instand noodles that could make me that sick either.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Tue Nov 03, 2009 2:09 pm UTC

I can't eat sushi from the alcohol poisoning I gave myself the same night.

Because, you know, I had to contribute my own anecdote even though I'm dragging the thread more off-topic.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Jorpho » Tue Nov 03, 2009 2:34 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:Meat is likely to harbor worse things, but anything that could be in meat, could be in your veggies too, because of the state of the food industry.
Let's assume that's not the case here.
Unfortunately, speculation and common sense—backed up by observation and the advice of actual scientists—are the only weapons you've got.
But that's the thing, isn't it? Sometimes speculation and common sense have no relation to science.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby PAstrychef » Wed Nov 04, 2009 3:23 pm UTC

Once veg have gone to the slime gods there isn't much you can do with them except add them to the compost.
At the least they will taste bad-if the possibility that they'll make you sick as a dog isn't enough to keep you from putting a rotten piece of vegetable int your mouth.
Here is one instance where the science came from the observation-eating rotten food made you ill. Could there be something in the rotten food that wasn't in the food when it was fresh? Gosh, yes there is!
If you're that broke that you really can't afford to waste food money on stuff that spoils, then buy less produce over all and eat it right away.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Jorpho » Wed Nov 04, 2009 5:08 pm UTC

PAstrychef wrote:Could there be something in the rotten food that wasn't in the food when it was fresh? Gosh, yes there is!
But fresh fruit and vegetables go overripe all the time, or develop funny spots when they get bruised, and so on. In that case there isn't something in the rotten food that wasn't there before.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Bakemaster » Wed Nov 04, 2009 8:15 pm UTC

There absolutely is. How else do you think the color and texture changes? Now granted, it's not always bacteria or mold; in the case of cut flesh of fruits turning brown, the initial culprit is oxidation. In the case of over-ripening, well, that's a lot more complicated because it involves not only the action of fruit enzymes, but also the action of microorganisms, harmful and otherwise. But in either case, compounds are present after that weren't present before.

The line between oxidation and contamination, or between ripe and over-ripe, is kind of a non sequitur, in that various microorganisms are always present. The change from fresh to rotten is for practical purposes an analog process. You've clearly recognized that there is a spectrum of freshness, that a digital state of either "fresh" or "rotten" doesn't exist; but because you still want a clear rule to follow, you're asking for a digital state of "safe to eat" or "unsafe to eat", as though that were any different or more real than "fresh" or "rotten". It's not. Every food is different, every eater is different, and every situation between them is different. This is why we use best practices, not chemistry sets, to decide what to eat and what to throw away.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Jorpho » Wed Nov 04, 2009 10:23 pm UTC

You're saying now that there's overripe fruit and vegetables that can be just as dangerous as moldy fruit and vegetables?
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Bakemaster » Wed Nov 04, 2009 10:32 pm UTC

Those aren't mutually exclusive categories—produce can develop mold before it ripens.

I am at a loss to identify the barrier to your understanding, here. What exactly is it that you want?
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby semicharmed » Thu Nov 05, 2009 1:36 am UTC

Depending on your definition of "dangerous", definitely.
Even the smell of overripe bananas (think, more than 50% covered in spots) can make me dry heave for a bit. Forgot about eating them, that's basically an immediate invitation to vomit up the entire contents of my stomach and keep heaving for 10-15 minutes.
Also, I take it you've never had a serious bout of food poisoning, Jorpho — because if you have, you'd be a lot less cavalier about spots and fuzziness. The gut is pretty resilient, but different people definitely have different sensitivities; what bothered my roommate's stomach tended not to bother mine, but I was felled by some spinach dip that didn't bother her at all. And seriously, given how much food poisoning sucks, it's really not worth the risk, to me, to eat fruits & veggies that are fuzzy. Or slimy.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby PAstrychef » Thu Nov 05, 2009 2:25 am UTC

I have a case of raspberries. Because they are raspberries (trust me on this) there is a spectrum of edibility in the case. I go through the berries and sort them.
Some are beautiful-I put those aside to use as garnishes.
Some are a bit soft, but otherwise ok-those go into baked preparations.
Some have hints of mold, but aren't gooshy-those go into sauce, which gets boiled in the making.
Some are glued together with mold, mushed out of shape and oozy or otherwise bad. Those go in the trash.
A big container of lettuce gets sorted-good leaves go in the sink to get rinsed. Slightly "rusty" leaves get trimmed and washed. Leaves that look transparent have been frozen, they get tossed. While washing the good leaves I find slimy leaves glued to them. The slimy leaves are thrown out.

As for the level of danger in stages of decomposition-which is want all growing tissue does once it's stopped from growing by being picked or killed-that depends on so many factors such as temperature of storage, time since picking, other treatments like marination or mixing with different foods and so on that the best test for the home eater is to sniff and taste. Food businesses have standards they are expected to adhere to which are more strict than most home eaters would fine necessary.
If you have a limp carrot which has grown a few rootlets but is not splotchy or squishy or rancid smelling you can use it in soup, peeled. Same with celery. If your cucumber is soft in spots you can try cutting them out and nibbling on the rest, but it might not taste quite right. Spuds with roots can have the roots snapped off and get peeled to see if they're ok. Spuds that are soft and wrinkly or stink should not be eaten.
I hope this helps.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Jorpho » Thu Nov 05, 2009 2:47 am UTC

semicharmed wrote:Also, I take it you've never had a serious bout of food poisoning, Jorpho
Oh, sure I have. That was an adventure! I'm pretty sure it was triggered by some bake sale cookies and thus did nothing to curb my aversion to wastefulness.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby folkhero » Thu Nov 05, 2009 7:38 am UTC

I ate overripe strawberries for years in high school (bouncing around in a somewhat warm environment in my lunch bag). I'm not positive, but I think the only difference is that some starches have turned to sugar, making them darker in color, softer and sweeter. I actually grew to prefer the sweetness of the overripe strawberries, and I never got sick from them. Of course I wouldn't eat an overripe strawberry with fuzz on it, but overripe =/= moldy.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Belial » Thu Nov 05, 2009 1:41 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:
semicharmed wrote:Also, I take it you've never had a serious bout of food poisoning, Jorpho
Oh, sure I have. That was an adventure!


Note: Jorpho defines "adventure" as "intense intestinal cramping and the violent spraying of food in various states of digestion along with digestive fluids from both ends of one's gastrointestinal tract"

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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Matt » Thu Nov 05, 2009 3:14 pm UTC

Oh this is perfect.

Anyone who keeps a homebar as extensive as I do but makes cocktails as rarely has a constantly rotating stockpile of questionable citrus. When does the peel go bad, when does the juice go bad? Sometimes I feel like I can juice 2 week old limes that are completely brown with no ill effects; other times lemons will seemingly randomly cover in mold after a week in the fridge.

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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby SecondTalon » Thu Nov 05, 2009 3:16 pm UTC

Belial wrote:
Jorpho wrote:That was an adventure!
Note: Jorpho defines "adventure" as "intense intestinal cramping and the violent spraying of food in various states of digestion along with digestive fluids from both ends of one's gastrointestinal tract"
I was assuming Jorpho's definition of adventure was sarcasm.


Still, back to the point of the thread, in all of my readings on it, it all pretty much boils down to "Don't eat spoiled food, jackass" in the same tones that one would say "Don't eat your own shit, jackass". Basically just something saying to not do it, and a brief listing of the diseases you can get from doing it with no tips on how to do it safely. The end result of food poisoning can be as mild as an upset stomach (which most people don't even recognize as food poisoning) to the usual notion of "puking your guts out while your ass continues to spew liquid shit" food poisoning... to the extreme of death. Well, I suppose it's possible to go further.. could be death by head explosion due to eating bad clams, but ... where was I going?

Oh, right.. the general consensus seems to be "Don't eat spoiled food. It's better to just throw it the fuck out as any benefits [saving money] are outweighed by potential harm [day(s) off work, hospitalization, death]"
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Jorpho » Thu Nov 05, 2009 4:56 pm UTC

Belial wrote:Note: Jorpho defines "adventure" as "intense intestinal cramping and the violent spraying of food in various states of digestion along with digestive fluids from both ends of one's gastrointestinal tract"
You see? It provides tales for the ages - legends with which to regale others time and time again!
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Bakemaster » Thu Nov 05, 2009 6:08 pm UTC

PAstrychef wrote:I have a case of raspberries. Because they are raspberries (trust me on this) there is a spectrum of edibility in the case. I go through the berries and sort them.

Me too! My spectrum is a little different, though.
Some are beautiful—I eat them when I get home from the store.
Some are a bit soft, but otherwise okay—I eat them when I get home from the store.
Some have hints of mold, but aren't gooshy—I hesitate slightly before eating them when I get home from the store.
Some are glued together with mold, mushed out of shape and oozy or otherwise bad—If I notice in time, I throw them away. If not...

I can't afford to buy raspberries any more because I eat a half pint package like it was popcorn, and then it is gone. :(
Jorpho wrote:
semicharmed wrote:Also, I take it you've never had a serious bout of food poisoning, Jorpho
Oh, sure I have. That was an adventure! I'm pretty sure it was triggered by some bake sale cookies and thus did nothing to curb my aversion to wastefulness.

People tend to have a very skewed idea of what caused their food poisoning. There's an incubation period that tends to throw off their perception. If you got sick soon after the bake sale (within 12 hours), odds are slim that those cookies were actually the source. I'd be hesitant to blame bake sale cookies in any case, as they are generally cooked, sold and eaten relatively quickly, leaving no time for them to become dangerous.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Jorpho » Thu Nov 05, 2009 6:46 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:People tend to have a very skewed idea of what caused their food poisoning. There's an incubation period that tends to throw off their perception. If you got sick soon after the bake sale (within 12 hours), odds are slim that those cookies were actually the source. I'd be hesitant to blame bake sale cookies in any case, as they are generally cooked, sold and eaten relatively quickly, leaving no time for them to become dangerous.
Well, it was the only thing out of the ordinary that I had been eating at the time. And I had been "saving" them for a little while.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby SecondTalon » Thu Nov 05, 2009 10:02 pm UTC

Jorpho, bake sale cookies from April you find under your bed in August should be thrown out, not eaten. I don't care if they were $10 for a box of ten. You throw them out.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Amarantha » Fri Nov 06, 2009 8:01 am UTC

Matt wrote:Anyone who keeps a homebar as extensive as I do but makes cocktails as rarely has a constantly rotating stockpile of questionable citrus. When does the peel go bad, when does the juice go bad? Sometimes I feel like I can juice 2 week old limes that are completely brown with no ill effects; other times lemons will seemingly randomly cover in mold after a week in the fridge.
I find they usually get stale and non-mix-worthy before they go mouldy. Except lemons that I've taken a twist from. If I'm vigilant, I can often get good juice from those before the scar-mould spreads to the inside.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby KallistiEngel » Thu Nov 12, 2009 7:04 am UTC

Since you seem resistant to people saying "don't eat it", I'm going the opposite route. Eat it, report back. Simple as that, then we get the benefit of your knowledge!
I'm addicted to bad ideas, and all the beauty in this world.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Belial » Thu Nov 12, 2009 2:44 pm UTC

Man, fair. It's not like I'm gonna have to take him to the damn hospital.

Go, Jorpho. Eat that mold. For science.
addams wrote:A drunk neighbor is better than a sober Belial.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby Axman » Thu Nov 12, 2009 4:51 pm UTC

I have a nice resealable container with the elemental remains of half a pound of bay scallops in the fridge that's gone all Cowboy Bebop I would be happy to contribute to science.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby AJR » Mon Nov 16, 2009 4:09 pm UTC

PAstrychef wrote:If you have a limp carrot which has grown a few rootlets but is not splotchy or squishy or rancid smelling you can use it in soup, peeled. Same with celery.

The test that I use for limp carrots & celery is if I can fold it in half or tie a knot in it, it goes into the compost. If carrots are too bendy to peel, they usually get composted, too.
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Re: When Good Food Goes Bad

Postby podbaydoor » Tue Nov 17, 2009 3:55 pm UTC

I think I just accidentally drank some sour milk. As I already have bad reactions to regular milk, I'm hoping I don't have a painful bathroom visit in my near future.
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