Just about everybody has some food of doubtful freshness in the fridge. Jars of condiments on the door, leftovers we’re loath to throw away because we hate wasting both money and food. Well, pay attention: health experts say that some 40 percent of refrigerators harbor the kind of bacteria responsible for foodborne illnesses.
If that inspires you to clean out your fridge today, keep in mind a few guidelines. Never judge a product’s bacterial content by its appearance or color. Rely on its “best before” date instead. All the same, consumers should be aware that these suggested dates are only valid for unopened products that have been stored in an appropriate manner.
Once a container has been opened, the length of time the product can be kept varies depending on what type of food it is. Generally speaking, moist products that have low acidity and are high in protein are most at risk of bacterial contamination. This is the case for deli meats and dairy products. Foods rich in unsaturated fatty acids, such as oils, nuts, and grains, tend to go rancid over time.
Here are a few examples of how long a product should be kept once it has been opened:
- mayonnaise: one to two months
- commercial salad dressing : three months
- commercial jams: four to six months
- maple syrup: four to six months
- butter: one to three weeks
- margarine: one to three months
- cottage cheese: one week
- cream cheese: two weeks.
Most of all, if in doubt, throw it out!