Twenty easy ways to extend the shelf life of refrigerated food

"I have a terribly unimportant question: suppose I were trying to eat more vegetablesraw — but, thanks to my schedule, often have to eat out or fix less-than-healthy meals. I shop for veggies, but discover that I rarely get to eat them before they're wilted or just plain nasty. What would you recommend I do in terms of either
  1. picking vegetables that last; or

  2. maximizing the useful shelf life of vegetables I do get?

I have the same problem with fruits, for that matter, and have all but given up on them since I can't really be running down to the grocery store every time I want some fruits or vegetables."
— Quoted from an e-mail with written permission. Links and some formatting by me.

* * * * *

This happens to me, too, and I deplore the waste. While eventual food spoilage is inevitable, you can minimize it. Some vegetables and fruits do last longer than others, but it's generally more important to store them and other refrigerated foods properly. It's not difficult to do, and after some basic planning it doesn't take much time, either.

Something strange sometimes happens when you buy vegetables or fruit. You might partially satisfy that nagging, guilt inducing voice (which keeps repeating "You really ought to be eating better, you know!" in the dark recesses of your mind) by purchasing the produce, and then bask in the momentary glow of feel-goodness that results. The problem is, you have to eat those veggies and fruits to receive the actual benefit. Akin to buying self-help or how-to books but not reading them, joining E2 and not posting one's work, etc., this phenomenon may contribute to food spoilage, but other issues may also apply.

Here are some ways to help prevent foods from spoiling in the refrigeration compartment of your refrigerator. Since these are generalized recommendations, please focus on those most applicable to you.

Before the grocery store

1. Keep your refrigerator clean.

The more often you clean1 it, the easier the cleaning will be and the necessity of a gas mask will be avoided. So, if the condiment bottle you forgot to wipe clean has transferred its mess to the door shelf, that batch of hamburger you were thawing dripped meat juices all over your salad, or that thing in the vegetable drawer is taking over, suck it up and deal with it. Rot and mold will taint the flavors of the rest of your food, are disgusting, and are also potential health hazards.

Your refrigerator's exterior needs attention, too. Keep the grill at the bottom clean and clear of debris. Once a year, unplug your fridge2 and vacuum or brush the coils clean. Ideally, you should also roll the refrigerator straight forward and clean the floor where it usually rests, because truly scary things tend to collect under there. (Be very cautious in attempting to roll it to one side, as you might damage your floor. I speak from experience.)

2. Perishable? Plan ahead.

If you intend to buy something extremely perishable such as fresh raspberries or live shellfish, decide ahead of time exactly what you'll be doing with it, and when.

3. Write a menu, then follow it.

Doing so will help to cut down on impulse buys. Creating a menu each week can become a fun family activity, not to mention that once it's done, posting it will spare you all the "What's for dinner?" questions.

It may, though, be difficult to write a menu due to schedule conflicts or other problems. I don't often use recipes, so I compromise by writing down dishes I'll make sometime during the week and/or different ingredients that I must use up before they go bad. Not a menu, but it certainly helps. E.g.:

• thaw a chicken and roast it
• assorted items which should be used: mushrooms, frozen spinach, broccoli, chopped raw onion, leftover cooked veggies, stale bread, the languishing radishes, and a huge sack of squash
• make tortillas, fill them with leftover chicken and black beans, onion, etc.
• make asparagus tart
• make brisket
• make pasta

Tack the list or menu on your fridge; visibility is everything.

4. Place your order online.

If your local supermarket offers an internet ordering service, taking advantage of it offers at least two benefits: 1) When you arrive at the store, they'll bring it to you, which helps to eliminate impulse buys. 2) The online shopping cart saves your list. You can then reuse it as needed, a great convenience if you prepare many of the same dishes on a regular basis. Some supermarkets even offer home delivery. (Thanks to JohnnyGoodyear for this.)

At the grocery store

5. Write a menu or plan in the store, if you must.

You might purchase something on impulse, based on price or appearance. E.g. "Those berries look incredibly luscious today; I'll get some." If you do this, I suggest you plan in the store when and how you will consume it or preserve it. If you realize that time might be several days down the line, postpone your purchase. No matter how good it looks today, if you're not going to eat it or freeze it soon, it's not going to do you any good, so don't waste your money on it.

Regarding freezing: Do you have the ability and time to freeze it? If you freeze it improperly, it's wasted. The time aspect is critical, too. I've wasted a few expensive cuts of meat that way; they were on sale and I thought to section them up and freeze them...then never got around to doing it.

6. Buy the best you can.

I buy the best ingredients I can get, within reason. For example, I buy organic products for at least three reasons:

a) They're organic.
b) They're tasty and fresh. (See a.)
c) They're often relatively expensive, and this tends to remind me to use them rather than allow them to sit around and spoil.

Case in point: I buy organic baby salad greens. This costs almost $4 US for a 5 ounce package. The pre-washed non-organic stuff is nearly as expensive, weight for weight. And, while unwashed head lettuce is obviously the cheapest way to go, it takes a while to prepare it. Here's what happens: I want a salad, then groan to myself and say "Nah, I'll do it tomorrow"...and tomorrow somehow turns into next Friday. By next Friday it has transmogrified into evil, dark green goo-in-a-sack. No, I'm far more likely to use baby organic greens on a day to day basis than laboriously washing up and trimming a bunch of non-organic greens.

That being said, I don't always buy organic. For one thing, I can't afford to, and for another, my local stores don't offer organic versions of everything I want. I could buy at a farmer's market (and really I should, as I'd like to support local farmers) but given my schedule and the cross-town traffic, I hardly ever get there.

A few notes: If you watch prices carefully, you may find some pleasant surprises. For example, around here organic celery and organic baby carrots each cost about the same as their non-organic counterparts, so it's a no-brainer to choose them. As far as organic salad greens go, Costco is the place to go. Last I looked, a 2 pound sack of organic greens there costs about the same as a 5 ounce pack at a supermarket, but even the 5 ounce organic pack is only ~$0.50 US more than non-organic packs of equivalent content and weight.

7. Check the date!

Check the "sell by", "best before", or "use by" date, if any of these apply. These are "open" date codes, which means they use a calendar date and are meant to be read by you, the consumer. (Those inscrutable alphanumeric codes printed on shelf-stable or frozen goods by the manufacturer/producer are "closed" codes: packing numbers used for interstate commerce tracking, shelf rotation and recall identification.) Open date codes appear on highly perishable items such as meat, dairy products, eggs, and sometimes packaged produce. They also appear on more stable items with a limited useful shelf life, such as yeast, baking powder, baking soda, flours, and nuts.

Here's how to read these dates:

  • Sell by — Expired "sell by" items are supposed to be pulled from display. Do not buy such items if they are past date! If you purchase an item a day or so before the sell by date, though, you can still safely use it for a while. For example, the USDA says eggs purchased by the sell by date can be used for three to five weeks.
  • Best if used by, Best before and Use by — These are not safety dates, but the manufacturer is, in effect, telling you that post-dated items will not be at peak quality. This may not be a big deal at all. On the other hand, your bread may flop because the yeast you just bought is dead.

I’m serious about checking the expiration date, folks. Sometimes past-date sell by products slip through no matter how hard your grocer tries. I once absently bought a gallon of milk at a grocery late at night and realized the next day that it expired that day and was nasty. Another absent grab netted me a pack of organic salad greens that had already expired. I actually did look at the container, but I couldn't see the rot since it had begun in the core of the package. It's very annoying when you realize that your own stupid oversight has cost you money and inconvenience.

Even if the date is still good, check for obvious signs of spoiling. You can’t exactly sniff milk in the store, but I avoid gallon jugs that have crusty, dried milk around their caps on the theory that if milk can get out after the jug has been sealed, other things can get in. (Maybe milk from another, burst jug spattered onto it after it had been sealed, but I still don't like it.) Flip over packages of salad greens, tomatoes, and (especially!) berries and check the bottom and/or back of the package for telltale signs of excess moisture, rot, fuzzy growing things, or crushing. Likewise, if the item is wilted, discolored, wrinkled when it shouldn't be, bruised, otherwise damaged, or smells funny, don't buy it.

The color of raw beef does not necessarily indicate its freshness. When raw beef exhibits a dark, rich purple color (such as you might find at the center of a large hunk of fresh, raw hamburger or a fresh, raw thick roast), that means it has not had extended exposure to oxygen. And, according to my favorite source, standard meat packaging (that styrofoam tray and plastic wrap business) is often specially designed to let oxygen in to tempt the shopper with that rosy-red beefy color we all know and think we love. A dark, ominous flat grayish-brown color, however, is a sign that the myoglobin in the meat has begun to break down into metmyoglobin, implying age and/or bacterial action.

8. Buy convenience-packaged produce.

There are now many fresh produce items which lend themselves to easy use, such as pre-washed lettuce and spinach, peeled baby carrots, and pre-cut celery sticks (the last organic, please!). Yes, they are sometimes more expensive, but consider this: You might spend $1.99 US for a 1 pound sack of organic pre-peeled carrots you actually use, vs. $0.89 US for a 5-pound bag of non-organic carrots which languishes and eventually sprouts because you know it will take an additional five minutes to prep a pound's worth and you perceive this to be a chore. No, this is not particularly rational, but it’s reality, baby, at least for some of us.

9. Use your supermarket salad bar wisely.

Supermarket salad bars are quite expensive when considered pound for pound, but nevertheless you can exploit them.

Say, for example, that I'm making a stir fry. I want to use yellow and red bell peppers, but this week my supermarket is charging $3-4 per fruit, yikes! Still, bell peppers are great sources of vitamin C and I'm also craving some. I could use frozen bell peppers, but a) those are hard to find and b) while I'd use those in a casserole, their texture would probably not stand up to a stir fry. So, I turn to the salad bar. My store has a bin with mixed green, red and yellow peppers (sometimes orange as well). I often gleefully raid it, taking exactly what I need and no more.

While relatively expensive, paying $0.50-$1 US on rings of pre-cut bell pepper is still cheaper than $3-4 US for an entire fruit. Plus, I'm getting a mix of colors, which would have required me to buy several fruits (now we'd be at $6-8 US, if not more) if I were to buy them whole.

10. Shop frequently.

Some people shop daily for the food they will eat that day. If your lifestyle can accommodate this — and not everyone's can — it's a wonderful way to help ensure the foods you eat are always fresh.

At home

11. Chill.

Make sure your refrigerator is maintaining a proper temperature. This is important, folks.

"There are two completely different families of bacteria: pathogenic bacteria, the kind that cause foodborne illness, and spoilage bacteria, the kind of bacteria that cause foods to deteriorate and develop unpleasant odors, tastes, and textures.

Pathogenic bacteria can grow rapidly in the "Danger Zone," the temperature range between 40 and 140°F, but they do not generally affect the taste, smell, or appearance of a food. In other words, one cannot tell that a pathogen is present.

On the other hand, spoilage bacteria can grow at low temperatures, such as in the refrigerator. Eventually they cause food to develop off or bad tastes and smells. Most people would not choose to eat spoiled food, but if they did, they probably would not get sick. It comes down to an issue of quality versus safety:

  • Food that has been left too long on the counter may be dangerous to eat, but could seem fine.

  • Food that has been stored too long in the refrigerator or freezer may be of lessened quality, but most likely would not make anyone sick. (However, some bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes thrive at cold temperatures, and if present, will grow in the refrigerator and could cause illness.)"

— Quoted with written permission by the USDA webmaster, from "Refrigeration & Food Safety" at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Refrigeration_&_Food_Safety/index.asp. Links by me. 140°F is equivalent to 60°C.

Purchase a refrigerator thermometer, set it on or hang it from a shelf, then check it every day. This doesn't have to be a chore; when you're grabbing for the milk or whatever first thing in the morning, just have a quick peek at it. Make sure the needle is in the refrigeration zone, 32 to 40°F (0 to 4.44°C). If you have a new refrigerator, it should hold a fairly constant temperature (within the limitations of refrigeration cycling), so once you get the temperature adjusted it's simply a matter of making sure no unexpected problems arise. Allow 5 to 8 hours to pass between temperature adjustments to check the results.

With the help of that thermometer, I know which parts of my refrigerator are warmer2 than others: The shelves of the door, the middle shelf, and the front half of the bottom shelf. The rear portions the interior shelves and the meat drawer (if you have one) are generally the coldest, but if you have repeated spoiling issues, check the temperature of each area individually. You might have a damaged door gasket or a shimming problem which causes the door to pop open slightly.

12. Load your refrigerator properly.

Knowing the temperature ranges in your refrigerator will help you to make educated choices about where to store your food items. The other thing you need to know is this: Do not overstuff your refrigerator. While a freezer does best when well-packed, cold air needs to circulate in a refrigerator. If it can't, warm pockets and icy areas may develop. Locate the air vents in your refrigerator compartment and keep them clear.

To help prevent contamination, store all raw meat, poultry and fish in spill proof containers or trays in the meat drawer or the rear half of the bottom shelf your refrigerator. Use them promptly, or freeze them.

Don't store eggs in the door of your refrigerator. Although manufacturers used to provide a cute molded plastic egg holder which fit neatly into said door, they were simply appealing to your vanity. The door tends to be warm and is also subject to frequent, large temperature variations. Keep your eggs in the ugly box you bought them in and store them on the back of a shelf. That box is fairly important, as it physically protects the eggs, has the expiration date stamped on it, and will help to prevent the eggs from absorbing foul odors.3 If you read up on eggs, you'll find that some people choose not to refrigerate them at all, but if they're smart they'll also use them very quickly. For eating purposes, eggs deteriorate rapidly without refrigeration.

The door is a good place for condiments, butter, other dairy products such as yogurt, canned drinks, and fresh herbs. The bottom door pocket on newer refrigerators is appropriate for gallon jugs of milk.

Other aspects of refrigerator loading are scattered throughout this article. Store vegetables and fruits separately in your crisper drawers, but do not put anything needing deep cold (such as raw meat) in them unless you have a special, convertible meat/crisper drawer and you have opened the direct air vent from the freezer into that drawer.

13. Don't put foods in your refrigerator that don't belong there!

Some foods are highly susceptible to chill injury and should never be stored there:

• Bananas turn brown very rapidly in the fridge. Yes, the flesh lasts a while longer, but will still decay much faster than if kept at room temperature.
Sweet potatoes if chilled will develop a hard, woody core and will also take forever to cook.
• Avocados
• Tomatoes
• Tropical fruits
• Pickling cucumbers

Other foods are sensitive to chill and should not be stored below 37°F (2.8°C):

• snap beans, a.k.a. green or wax beans
• melons
• berries
• citrus fruits
• fresh ears of corn...but...what the HECK are you thinking? Every second counts, and you should be eating the corn on the cob, not storing it! Preferably with chipotle lime butter, if not straight up. Duh.

Potatoes should be kept in a cool place, but "cool" in this case — 45-50°F (7.2-10°C) — is prohibitively warm for everything else in your fridge. At least one source4 says potatoes should never be refrigerated as they tend to get "sweet". I refrigerate mine anyway, as I don't have a good, cool place for them and they quickly sprout if I don't. They tend to dehydrate over time if treated that way, but they don't get the woody core that a sweet potato does.

One caution: Lettuce and other leafy greens stand up well to cold, but will spoil if they actually freeze. (Our doyle notes that this only happens after they are picked; greens which are still growing can withstand a freeze.) This is also true of any fruits or vegetables with very high water content.

If you have to keep sensitive foods like these in a cold refrigerator, wrapping them in a dishtowel and storing them in the door (a warmer zone) will help. A little.

14. Keep a running inventory.

Eating a varied diet can be a challenge when you're cooking for one or two...or even for a crowd. The crisper drawers rapidly become full of "a few of this" and "a couple of that", and it can be difficult to remember what is on hand when most everything is buried. To counteract this problem, make a written list of you have, and stick it on your refrigerator door. If you buy something new, add it. (If need be, include the purchase date, too.) If you use it up, cross the item out and add it to your shopping list. Now you have a highly visible inventory which may help you remember to use those items more often, and it also dovetails handily with keeping a menu and/or list of things to cook.

15. Keep it dry...but not too dry.

Visible moisture, i.e. condensation, on produce or in their containers promotes decay. Dry it off with a towel. Lettuce and other greens can be gently patted or spun dry. If you do not have a salad spinner, rinse the greens well, wrap them in a bath towel or place them in a pillowcase, toss the whole thing into your clothes washing machine set to the spin cycle, and let the machine cycle through. Really, it works! Then wrap the greens in a paper towel before tucking them into a ziptop bag or other container for storage.

In the complete absence of humidity, though, your produce will soon dehydrate and begin to rot. That is where your crisper drawer comes in handy: It limits access of extremely cold air to the product in question and creates a more humid environment. So, after you get all the visible wet stuff off, puncture any plastic bags (or leave them slightly open) so that the produce can breathe and benefit from the humidity, and tuck them into that crisper.

Most crispers have a slide on the top front of the drawer. This slide controls the size of a small opening into the drawer, which in turn controls the humidity inside the drawer. If you'll be storing vegetables in that drawer, close the hole completely for maximum humidity. For fruit, open it completely.

16. Cushion your goods.

Crates of mail ordered fruit sometimes contain a washable foam mat about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) thick that is ideally sized for lining the bottom of the crisper drawer. (In fact, the crates I've received specifically suggest using it for just that purpose.) This keeps fruit and veggies off the drawer's cold plastic floor, reduces potential contact with condensation or goo in the bottom, and also gently cushions them, helping to prevent contact bruises.

If you can't find these foam mats, flexible plastic cutting mats are the next best thing. Cut them to fit. They won't cushion your produce, but they are easy to remove for cleaning and will provide a slight thermal barrier.

17. Use science.

As produce ripens, it releases ethylene gas to a greater or lesser extent. Fruits tend to release more ethylene than vegetables, and vegetables tend to be more sensitive to it. When trapped in close proximity to your produce, ethylene increases the rate of spoilage. And guess what, your crisper does just that! (This is a very good reason to keep your fruits and veggies in separate crispers, by the way.)

Extra Life®, a widget which looks like a green hockey puck, sits in my crisper drawer and neutralizes 97% of the ethylene gas given off by ripening produce. It costs $5 US, is rated effective for 3 months, and really does help extend shelf life. There's a bunch of cilantro in that drawer that's at least two weeks old and is in excellent condition, which I wouldn't have believed possible had I not seen it for myself. ExtraLife® will not, of course, prevent spoilage. If you go through produce very quickly it's probably not worth the money, but since I cook for two and one of us is aggressively anti-vegetable, I need all the help I can get. I just bought a second one for my fruit drawer.

While it doesn't impact decay, an open box of baking soda in your refrigerator will neutralize odors. Change the box out every 3 months. Arm & Hammer® now produces baking soda in a "Fridge-n-Freezer® Odor Absorber" package. You peel both sides of the box away to reveal a fabric-like material, which allows far more surface contact between the air and the baking soda than the basic box does.

18. Package food items carefully.

A few extra moments can prevent foods from being dried out, soaking up an unpleasant odor, or going bad sooner than it should have. Salad greens, for example, go bad faster when exposed to air. If you spy a leaf or two that have gone bad — turning dark green and watery looking, usually with an associated nasty smell — pick them out and discard them. Label and date all leftovers, as well as any raw meats which have become detached from their butcher labels. Keep the leftovers near the front and top of the refrigerator where you can find them easily. If the date starts getting on, do yourself a favor and pitch it before it becomes a stink bomb.

The cheapest convenience foods are those you make yourself. While I rarely if ever wash/chop after coming home from the grocery store, something I frequently do is cook an entire bag of rice until it's almost done and then freeze it in small ziptop bags in 1 cup (250 ml / 8 fl oz) amounts. This is incredibly handy if you're after a fast meal and don't care for the cardboard taste of instant rice. It also prevents the specter of the refrigerator carton of evil gooey rice. This works for rice, beans, lentils, and a few other odd things like angel hair pasta. One warning: NEVER freeze an entire one pound bag's worth of cooked rice in a single ziptop bag. The resulting massive brick has incredible thermal mass; you could cook brown rice from scratch several times over before getting that frozen block thawed enough to hack off a useable chunk. Keep the amounts per bag quite small and measure and label it so you know what you've got. In one cup amounts, it will thaw easily in the bag in your microwave or in boiling water.

19. Do some prep work ahead of time.

Rachael Ray promotes prepping all produce right after you bring it home: trim, peel, rinse and dry it, whatever might need to be done, and then store it properly. Our own yclept feels strongly about prepping greens this way, but notes that fruit is best left alone until you are going to use it.

I'm more lazy than all that, plus I buy pre-prepped greens. I still do advance prep work, though. For example, if I need one chopped onion, I'll chop up two and store the extra. When I've come home late and want to make something quickly, having something easy to put together may make the difference between using something vs. not using it, or even cooking something vs. not eating, or eating poorly. It all comes back to perceptions again. If I want to make refried beans and it's 10 pm, it seems easier to just crack open bags or containers, shake out chopped onion and bell pepper and sauté them up before dumping in some rinsed canned beans. Yes, peeling/chopping wouldn't take that much longer, but time is...time.

20. It's perfectly okay to use frozen vegetables.

Trying to get more fresh, raw foods into your diet is an excellent and praiseworthy goal, but steaming and microwaving (not to mention a quick sauté or a longer braise) are still excellent methods. They give you access to frozen veggies, which are sometimes as good as fresh, if not better, since they're processed at the height of their harvesting season. I use frozen spinach and other hearty greens, corn, green beans, and broccoli/cauliflower/carrot mix, among others. You may need to experiment a bit — excess water from ice crystals is sometimes a problem — but they can be just fine if done right. If the difference between eating these foods and NOT eating them comes down to ease of preparation, then by all means please use the frozen stuff. I'm not overly fond of canned vegetables (they often contain large amounts of salt and/or are mushy), but the same argument goes for them, too.

Footnotes

1. For detailed instructions on how to clean a refrigerator and how to eliminate mold in one, visit General Electric's Answer Center webpage, http://answers.geappliances.com/iq/main.jsp, and search for "How should I clean my refrigerator". This should bring up four useful articles. (If you can figure out how to reference pop-up windows, please tell me.)

2. The name of the household appliance which keeps your food cold is, in American English, spelled "refrigerator". Not "refridgerator". The word "fridge" has become a nickname for refrigerator, but if you ask Webby, it's technically a misnomer. I suppose it is spelled that way because of the heard "d" in front of the "g", and I can certainly accept the evolution of a new word, but there is no "d" in refrigerator!

3. In researching this article, I came across a interesting application of fresh eggs' tendency to soak up odors: Store them in the same box with something that smells glorious, and the eggs will soon take on a beautiful bouquet of their own. (Reference: Google™ "eggs stored with truffle".)

4. How to Store Potatoes
http://www.ehow.com/how_3480_store-potatoes.html

References

Refrigeration & Food Safety
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Refrigeration_&_Food_Safety/index.asp

Food safety: Bacteria, Spoilage
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/help/FAQs_Food_Spoilage/index.asp

Food product dating
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Food_Product_Dating/index.asp

Fight BAC! Keep food safe from bacteria®
http://www.fightbac.org/main.cfm

Cook’s Illustrated, March & April 2001, pages 16 - 17: Getting to Know Your Refrigerator.

Cook’s Illustrated, March & April 2003, page 5: Clever Uses for Flexible Cutting Mats.

Via Texas - handling and storage for melons
http://www.via-texas.com/retailers-storage-melons.html

Arm & Hammer®
http://www.armandhammer.com/basics/magic/#2
http://www.armandhammer.com/basics/products/

ExtraLife®
http://www.extralifeclub.com/

Rhode Island Food Safety Education
http://www.uri.edu/ce/ceec/food/factsheets/produce.html

Proper Handling of Eggs: From Hen to Consumption
http://www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/poultry/factsheets/9

Minnesota Department of Health Egg FAQ
http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/fh/wic/wicfoods/eggfaqs.html

Get Cracking
http://www.eggs.ca/eggfacts/eggstoreeggs.asp

Joy of Baking
http://wwww.joyofbaking.com/

Personal experience


Many thanks to Lometa, exceptinsects, kthejoker, Swap, wertperch, JohnnyGoodyear, Laura Elizabeth, yclept, rootbeer277, doyle and wordnerd for contributions, assistance, and/or assorted dire threats. If I missed anyone, please tell me.

Please /msg me with any concepts I've missed, or post you own additions to this node. Also, some of this information is U.S.-centric, because a) I live here and b) most of the resources I could find were U.S.-based. If anyone would like to add information on how sell-by dates, etc., work in the EU or elsewhere, by all means please do.


bariau says: Just a point of interest, eggs in the UK are printed with a best before date and date of salmonella vaccination on them. Also I have a little bit of info for you about best before dates in the UK. Best Before means that while it tastes better before the date, it is still ok to eat after. Sell by means it cannot be on the shelves says after that date and use by means just that, else it'll have gone off.

anark suggests using great caution at supermarket salad bars and referred me to this. This makes sense to me, and yes, I pick and choose my salad bars with caution. Some are far better than others. Just because a food is offered does not necessarily mean it is safe, so have a good hard look at it before you put it in your tin.

yclept says: "Y'know eggs? They can stay "fresh" for quite a while at room temp in terms of edible and good tasting. A chicken after all lays 1 egg a day, and doesn't set on the nest to hatch them out until she's got a lot of 'em. Guineafowl don't set until they've got over 2 dozen, sometimes more. So, they don't spoil quickly. HOWEVER, eggs change character drastically between the first week and the third, and stable chilling slows this down. The character of the white changes as an egg ages, and it also loses moisture. Eggs breath, after all. A truly fresh egg makes lousy hard boiled because they're impossible to peel, but makes a better poached egg because the white holds together better. Basically, eggs can keep at room temp, just expect them to change."

To this I say: Yep, I agree. I raised chickens as a child and maintained a flock of 26 (+/-) hens over a number of years. I read a number of websites before posting what I did. Eggs do change over time, yes, and when held at room temperature, they change in a way meant to facilitate the embryo, should the egg be fertile. This is a good thing for a baby chick, but not so good for human consumption. People who are very familiar with eggs might keep them at room temperature, sure, if they are used quickly. The formal references all point to refrigeration, though, and if your fridge is in dire straits, your eggs probably need all the help they can get.

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