Our best intentions made us do it, loading up on fresh ingredients for all the inspired meals we planned to make. Fast forward to the end of a week that did not cooperate and we’re staring at a week’s worth of expired food. As painful as it is to see that grocery budget spend in the trash, food poisoning is worse. While “when in doubt, throw it out” is generally a good rule of thumb, here are the can’t ignore signs of expired food.
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Homemade salad dressing
Creamy, mayo-based dressings are best judged by sight. If you can see the ingredients begin to separate, it’s time to say buh-bye. While vinaigrettes and other oil-based dressings generally last longer, these dressings will reveal their point of no return when the oil starts to smell rancid.
From Big Bertha reds to tri-colored mini bells, these versatile veggies are at their peak when the skin is firm and free from any markings. You’ll know their sweet, crunchy flavor is gone if you see wrinkly brown spots. Slice ’em up before they have a chance to go soft!
Broth or stock
For their rich flavor, beef and chicken broth are staples in many a cook’s kitchens. Broth is also the ingredient that makes this beef and vegetable stir-fry sing. Still, maybe with the exception of a pot of soup or Thanksgiving dressing, few recipes call for an entire Tetra Pak of the stuff. Once you’ve opened it, rely on your sniffer to tell if it’s past its prime. Expired food, including broth, will have a distinct sour smell.
Who among us hasn’t found that one rotten onion lurking in the red mesh bag? Perhaps a produce item worth purchasing individually instead of pre-bagged? However you purchase them, store your onions in the pantry away from potatoes. When they are together, you get an expired food accelerant. Both release gases that spoil the other—think potatoes growing long sprouts and onions in a slimy, molded heap. Eww.
While unsightly, sprouts on your taters aren’t a deal-breaker. They can easily be cut off with the rest of the potato remaining perfectly edible. And that means you can make good on some major spud inspo: Rely on the vegetable’s firmness (no soft spots), color (uniform, with no green) and scent (earthy, fresh from the garden soil). If it smells funky, skip the home fries.
Whether for your morning coffee or in lieu of heavy cream in a comfort food classic, half-and-half is a refrigerator staple. It can also spoil well before the “best by” date. You’ll know that’s the case if it pools in little flecks instead of dissolving in your coffee. Put those olfactory senses to their best use with a quick sniff before you pour.
Garlic is at its best when firm to the touch, with papery leaves intact. The cloves themselves should have a bit of moisture inside. If any areas have hollowed-out dark spots, or appear wrinkly and dry, it’s going bad and therefore time to toss.
This cruciferous green is healthiest when the stem is firm and the flowering head is rich in color. It’s a cinch to prep, and might even pass muster with your most finicky eaters—like this cream of broccoli soup recipe. As it begins to deteriorate, black spots start to appear at the base. Crowns lose their vibrant hue, taking on a yellowish tint. The earthy green scent will also take on a bitter smell, which belongs nowhere near your dinner plate.
If you’ve ever accidentally tasted a grape gone bad, you know it. Save your taste buds the agony by sniffing for freshness. Expired grapes will have a dirty, vinegar-like smell, usually accompanied by the odd brown, mushy grape here or there.
The high water content of cukes makes them highly perishable—better to buy only what you need and use them up quickly. A bad cucumber will turn soft and sliced ones will start to feel slimy.
Readers Digest article by Rebecca C. Walden