Could the Food in Your Fridge Be Making You Sick?

You’ve been there, right? You’re standing at the fridge door, opening the container of whatever, smelling it and wondering if you should eat it or not. It smells okay, but is it?

Certainly, you don’t want to spend the next 24-48 hours heaving to the porcelain God over some leftover Chinese that smelled okay but wasn’t. But, you also don’t want to throw away perfectly good food if you don’t have to, so what do you do?

You learn the shelf life of foods and you abide by it. There’s no use putting yourself or your family at risk just because you don’t want to waste food. Yes, there are starving people in other parts of the world, but throwing your questionable food into the garbage isn’t going to change their life in any way, shape or form.

Recommended Shelf Lives

night eating

Here are some common foods and their shelf lives so you can eat without worry of contaminating yourself or your family with a bacteria that’s going to make you sick:

Meal leftovers in general – Usually leftovers, whether from a night out or something made at home, are good for two to three days in the fridge. If you don’t think they’ll be eaten within that time frame, you may want to consider freezing them and having them at some point in the future.

To decrease the likelihood that your leftovers will become infected with bacteria, make sure to refrigerate them within a reasonable amount of time. After approximately two hours at room temperature, the food starts to be unsafe to eat. That time frame decreases when you’re in the middle of a heat wave (above 90 degrees), so act accordingly.

Meat and poultry – Chicken and turkey are only good for a day or two, whereas fish and shellfish last 3-5 days after they’re cooked, but only 1-2 days when they’re still raw. Ham will keep 3-5 days, whereas most organ meats expire within one or two days.

Processed meats like hot dogs and lunch meats will last for two weeks as long as you don’t open them. But, once you start using them, ideally you want to eat them up within three days to a week.

Sausage will keep for seven days. But, if it’s the summer sausage you like, you can eat it safely for up to three weeks once it’s opened (and it’s good for three months as long as the package is unopened). If you buy bacon, you’ll want to cook it up and eat it within seven days.

Dairy – Milk is usually good for a week. However, sometimes the door at the grocery store didn’t get closed all the way and your milk sours more quickly. It never hurts to have a sniff before pouring yourself a glass or filling up your cereal bowl.

Eggs will keep for 3-5 weeks as long as they’re kept in the shell. You’ll drop the time to 2-4 days if you crack them open. Yogurt is good for 1-2 weeks and butter is good for 1-3 months.

Hard cheese is okay to eat up to four weeks when it’s been opened and up to six months when it hasn’t been. Soft cheese, on the other hand, should be consumed within one week.

Condiments – Most people have condiments in their refrigerator door that have been there since they moved in. However, these items go bad as well and should be replaced every so often.

Ketchup is good for one year, while mustard will keep for up to two. Mayo has a much shorter shelf life and should be used up within two months, along with most of your salad dressings.

Things like olives and pickles should be eaten within two weeks of opening them.

Pantry Items – Even if something doesn’t have to be refrigerated, it doesn’t mean it will last forever. Some items have expiration dates on them (usually 1-2 years out), and others have “Best if Used By” dates. For instance, cereal should be good for 6-12 months as long as the bag is still sealed, but open bags should be consumed within 2-3 months.

Herbs, Spices and Baking ingredients –Unless you’re always in the kitchen whipping up desserts, your cupboards are likely stocked with ingredients you’ve had for quite some time. Every once in a while, you’ll want to go through these items and throw them away if necessary.

Things like baking powder, baking soda and corn starch are generally good for 18-24 months. Evaporated or powdered milk and cocoa however, should be used within a year. Some items like salt, sugar, honey and vanilla extract last indefinitely. Your basic herbs and spices should be replaced every two years or so.

Food Poisoning Treatment

Woman Drinking Water from glass

So, what happens if you abide by all the good-food rules and still find yourself sick from what you ate? According to the Mayo Clinic, there are things you can do, such as:

Give your stomach time to calm down. Don’t try to eat or drink anything for a few hours so as not to agitate the problem.

If you do feel like you want something, concentrate on consuming clear liquids. Take small sips of water, clear soda or broth.

Return to eating slowly. Once you feel better, don’t gorge yourself on something that may further upset your stomach. Stick to foods like crackers, bananas and rice.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol and high fat foods. All of these substances have the tendency to make you feel worse, not better.

Don’t overdo it. Food poisoning can drain you and suck your energy. Take it easy and give your body time to heal.

If you have diarrhea, don’t take anything to stop it. Although it may feel unpleasant, it’s actually your body’s way of naturally getting rid of the toxins that are making you feel bad.
When it comes to food that’s been around a while, it’s best to follow the motto that “when in doubt, throw it out.” Getting rid of it is much less of a sacrifice than feeling ill for a day or two.

Now that you know how long you should really be keeping food for, take the time to go through your fridge and pantry and clean it out. Throw away things that are questionable and replace what’s necessary. Your digestive track will thank you.

Want to keep food fresh longer? Read our How to Keep Food Fresh for Days post.

About the author

Christina DeBusk

Changing careers mid-life from law enforcement to writing, Christina spends her days helping others enrich their businesses and personal lives one word at a time.

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