When to Say When: Is it Safe to Eat?

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Wondering how long that food should stay in the fridge until it goes bad? The "sniff test" isn't always the best way to tell, Nelken says. "The 'ick' factor – outward signs of spoilage such as smell and sliminess – are obvious and are nature's way of warning you not to eat it. However, you can't see bacteria." Use the following rules of thumb from FoodSafety.gov for tossing expired food. 

  • ·Prepared meats: Hot dogs and lunch meat in sealed containers will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Bacon is good for about a week, as is an opened package of hot dogs. Sliced, fresh meat from the deli needs to be thrown away after five days.
  • ·Raw meat: Sausage, poultry and ground meats should be kept in the fridge for up to just two days before cooking. Chops, roasts and steaks can remain cold for three to five days.
  • ·Salads: Mayonnaise-based salads like egg, ham and macaroni have a fridge life of three to five days.
  • ·Leftovers: Toss takeout after three to five days, depending on the contents. Meat-based dishes have less time than other items.

The refrigerator is the best place to defrost foods as well. Nelken cautions consumers never to thaw food on the counter or in the sink. Doing so not only allows the food to remain in that "danger zone" temperature range long enough for bacteria to multiply, but if juices from the food spill, they can contaminate other foods left in the same place.