Food & Drink

Bonnie Aeschliman: How to tell when food or leftovers go bad

Have you ever wondered if an ingredient too old to use? Some ingredients such as baking powder, baking soda and even flour can become too old to perform satisfactorily in recipes. Or perhaps you have something hiding in your refrigerator that has been there way too long?

Often we may wonder if the food will still taste good, but the overriding question probably should be, “Is it safe to eat?”

Whenever there is a massive food recall, I often get questions about food safety. Here are the ones I have received this week.

Q. I often bring home part of my restaurant meal as it is more than I want to eat at one time. I never know how long leftovers will stay good in the refrigerator. If it looks and smells all right, is it still safe to eat?

A. You cannot always go by how things look. Harmful bacteria may be present in the food even though you cannot see, taste or smell it. A good rule to follow: If in doubt, throw it out. It is not worth risking a case of food poisoning.

Leftovers can be stored safely in the refrigerator for three or four days. After that, you either can freeze it for later use or just pitch it.

Q. I purchased a large chunk of really nice cheese not long ago. When I went to use it in a recipe, I noticed it had mold growing on one end of it. It seems I heard the mold can be trimmed off and the cheese is still useable. Is that true?

A. Since you indicated it was a solid piece of cheese, I am assuming it was a hard cheese such as cheddar, Colby, Parmesan or other firm cheese. If so, yes, you still may use the cheese after removing the mold. Mold generally does not penetrate far into hard and semisoft cheeses, so you safely can cut away the moldy portion and use the rest of the cheese. Be sure to cut off at least one inch around and below the moldy spot. Also, be careful to keep the knife out of the mold so you do not contaminate the remainder of the cheese.

If mold occurs on fresh, soft cheeses such as cottage cheese, cream cheese and ricotta cheese, they must be discarded. Shredded or crumbled cheeses with mold should be discarded as well because the mold can send threads throughout the cheese.

Of course, not all molds are harmful. In fact, some types of mold are used to make cheeses, such as Brie and all the blue-veined cheeses.

Q. Does olive oil go bad? I’ve had mine for several months and am not sure if it is still useable or not. How can you tell?

A. Yes, oils can become rancid if they become too old or are not stored properly. How will you know if oil is still good? You will know right away when you smell it: Oil has a distinct off-odor and flavor that you know you would not want to consume.

Usually, most oils are shelf-stable for about six months if stored in a cool, dark area such as a cabinet that is not near the oven. If you plan to keep it longer than that, refrigerate it, and it will keep for several months. Olive oil may congeal in the refrigerator. But when left at room temperature, it will become liquid again.

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