10 fast-spoiling foods to avoid

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT

Americans waste a lot of food. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that American households discard a whopping $218 billion worth each year — an average of $1,800 per household. Many could easily reduce that amount by actually eating, rather than throwing out, what they buy, while also cutting back on buying and cooking too much at once. In part, that means eating food before it spoils and avoiding foods that turn bad quickly for occasions such as summer potlucks.

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10 fast spoiling foods

SALADS MADE WITH MAYONNAISE

Mayonnaise, made of oil and egg yolks with a little added vinegar or other acid, is known for souring quickly. While most commercially produced mayonnaise contains preservatives that hinder the growth of spoilage-inducing bacteria, the additives don't halt bacteria growth completely. Any side dish made with mayonnaise, including potato salad, egg salad, and coleslaw, should be stored cold until eaten. At a picnic or outdoor barbecue, keep it out of direct sunlight, preferably in a cooler, or stored on top of a tray of ice. Discard after two hours if not kept chilled.

DAIRY PRODUCTS

In the days before refrigeration, making hard-rind cheese was pretty much the only way to transform milk into something that could be stored without spoiling. A sliced-cheese platter is a good outdoor dining possibility, but other dairy products, including dips made with butter or soft cheeses such as cottage and cream cheese, can go bad in as little as two hours if not refrigerated. Remember, too, that butter begins to melt at 90 degrees.

FRESH FRUITS

Any fresh, preservative-free produce can go bad quickly, especially in warm weather. Spoilage is caused by microbes that can quickly contaminate other nearby fruit. Store a piece of fresh produce next to a spoiled one and it will spoil quickly, hence the proverb: "One bad apple spoils the whole bunch." When serving fruit, keep it cool and in the shade, and remember that cut or sliced fruit goes bad more quickly than whole fruits still protected by unbroken skins or rinds.

SEAFOOD

In many parts of the country, a fish fry is a popular outdoor get-together, especially among fishermen frying fresh catches. But it's best to avoid serving seafood outdoors as a meal, because fish and their underwater brethren go bad exceptionally quickly in an open-air environment, especially during warm summer weather.

DEVILED EGGS

Deviled eggs can keep up to a week in the refrigerator, but at room temperature (especially hot weather), they can go bad in an afternoon. Eggs themselves are highly perishable, and the oil or mayonnaise in most deviled-egg recipes makes matters worse. You can't always smell when a hard-boiled egg first goes bad, either. If you bring deviled eggs outdoors, transport them in a cooler, keep them on ice, and discard them after two hours if left out

SALAD DRESSINGS AND VEGETABLE DIPS

Even if salad offerings and vegetable platters stay fresh and safe, take care to ensure the dips and dressings (especially those with a dairy, oil, or mayonnaise base) don't spoil. Oil-and-vinegar dressings are apt to last longer on a hot afternoon (the vinegar's high acidity hinders bacteria growth), but oil alone can become rancid quickly if not kept cool, especially when exposed to open air.

GREEN SALADS AND VEGGIE PLATTERS

When the weather's warm enough that you feel like wilting in the sun, it's a safe bet that lettuce leaves and other tasty-when-crisp salad ingredients will wilt even faster. If you do serve salad at an outdoor shindig, one safe option is to display it in an inflatable salad bar well stocked with ice. Even then, remember that vegetables kept on ice in warm weather still go bad far faster than they would in a refrigerator's crisper drawer.

FRIED CHICKEN

At first thought, a "finger food" such as fried chicken might seem the perfect picnic cuisine (provided there are plenty of napkins for cleaning greasy fingers). But think again. Even properly cooked chicken can host a multitude of microbes after only a short time in warm weather. If you must bring chicken to a picnic, serve it while it's still hot from cooking or chill it completely in the refrigerator and carry it in a cooler filled with ice.

CHOCOLATE

After a couple hours in warm weather, chocolate won't necessarily "go bad" in the sense of harboring dangerous bacteria, but it will melt and make a sticky, gooey mess. When chocolate is needed for s'mores or other classic summer treats, keep it in watertight plastic bags in a cooler well stocked with ice.

CHOCOLATE

After a couple hours in warm weather, chocolate won't necessarily "go bad" in the sense of harboring dangerous bacteria, but it will melt and make a sticky, gooey mess. When chocolate is needed for s'mores or other classic summer treats, keep it in watertight plastic bags in a cooler well stocked with ice.

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The foods listed here are highly perishable and require proper handling when consumed outdoors in warm weather. To avoid food poisoning, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that perishable items be discarded if they remain at room temperature for two hours or more. Think twice about bringing these foods to a picnic or cookout — and if you do, transport and store them in a cooler with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs, and be sure to keep the cooler closed to keep the contents cold and safely edible.

RELATED: Foods to never eat past expiration date 

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Foods you should NEVER eat past expiration dates
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Foods you should NEVER eat past expiration dates

Egg substitutes 

A full carton of eggs has a little more leeway than their boxed substitutes, but both should be consumed in a timely manner. If you’re debating whether to finish off that two-week old carton of whites—don’t. “It’s very safe to keep eggs in the refrigerator for three to five weeks if they’re raw and in the shell. For egg substitute products, you have about three to five days on average once they’re open. If they’re unopened you have about 10 days,” says Jessica Crandall, a Denver-based registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Soft cheeses 

Harder cheeses like cheddar or gouda have a longer shelf life because it’s more difficult for bacteria and mold to permeate them. Once opened, hard cheeses may last up to six months in the refrigerator, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. However, softer cheeses like ricotta, cream cheese, or goat cheese, are more susceptible to mold and bacteria and should be tossed at the first sign of spoiling or once the expiration date has passed, whichever comes first. As a general rule of thumb, softer cheeses last about one week in the refrigerator after opening.

Jarred condiments

It may seem like spreads and sauces last forever, but just because they’re in a glass jar tucked away in the cool refrigerator doesn’t mean they’re untouchable by bacteria. “Once you’ve opened the lid, that safety seal is broken, and you should be using that condiment in a timely fashion,” says Crandall. “In addition, as we make sandwiches for example, we dip our knife into the spread container and wipe it onto the sandwich and then dip it back into the container. By doing this you’re putting some of that bacteria back into the container.” Jarred condiments tend to have more exposure to bacteria and therefore could lead to foodborne illness if not trashed at the appropriate time. If you notice any water floating on top, discoloration, or weird smells—just toss it.

Potato salad

Similar to jarred spreads like mayo and mustard, potato or egg salads are more susceptible to bacteria growth because they have more instances of exposure. Taking a few scoops at a time from the container introduces more bacteria and increases risk of contamination leading to foodborne illness. Salads like these are often pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about, giving time for that bacteria to grow and for that food to spoil. “Our food system is very safe, but sometimes when things fall out of temperature or if there is bacteria introduced, we have to be extra cautious with those things,” says Crandall. Check out these other summertime food safety tips you might be ignoring.

Cold pressed juices

Green juices may be filling up your Instagram feeds daily, but they should not find a permanent home in your refrigerator. Cold-pressed or raw juices are incredibly popular among the health-conscious because they’re nutrient-dense, but it’s important to consume them very soon after buying. Unlike typical processed juices which undergo pasteurization to kill off harmful bacteria and increase shelf life, these raw juices are not pasteurized, making them much more prone to bacteria contamination. Only buy from your local juice bar what you plan to drink in the next 48-72 hours if you want to avoid getting sick.

Fresh meat 

With fresh meat you’re usually dealing with a “sell by” date, which tells the store the last day it can keep that product out for sale. What does this mean for you? You either need to eat it or freeze it when you get home. “The ‘sell by’ is telling the store when it should be the last day to have it on their shelf. They may even be discounting the food to try to get rid of it if it’s the last day they can have it on their shelves,” says Crandall. A lot of fresh raw meat is also contaminated with SalmonellaE. coli, or other bacteria. With that in mind, it’s very important to cook the meat at the proper temperatures as a greater defense against bacteria.

Ground meats

The FDA says that ground meat should be eaten or frozen within two days of purchase. This applies to beef, pork, turkey, lamb, and any other type of ground meat. Because it’s ground, the bacteria that were originally present on the surface can be mixed throughout the meat, increasing your risk of contracting food poisoning or another illness. Don't miss these surprising foods that food experts will never eat.

Deli meat

Take your ticket, but don’t load up too much at the deli counter. Those ham and turkey slices will only last about three to five days, so it’s important to only buy what you’ll realistically eat during that period. Prepackaged deli meats sold in air-tight packaging will last a little longer than the fresh-sliced varieties if they’re unopened, but as soon as you crack the seal you’re working with the same three- to five-day consumption window for safe eating. Deli meat in particular is susceptible to a certain kind of bacteria called Listeria, which can multiply in cold environments like your refrigerator, so just because it’s cold doesn’t mean it’s completely protected. If the deli meat is a little slimy or giving off a funky smell, then that’s a good sign it needs to go.

Fish

Fish are no less prone to bacteria than meat and should be consumed in one or two days after purchase. Otherwise, Whole Foods advises tightly wrapping it in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil and put in the freezer. Here are 11 more foods you've been storing wrong this whole time.

Fresh berries

Whether you get them from the store or a farmer’s market, berries have a short lifespan. Raspberries and strawberries are only good for about three days after purchase, while blueberries can last a few days longer in the fridge. Pro tip: Freeze any berries you know you won’t eat in that time frame.After that, they turn mushy and become susceptible to a bacteria called cyclospora cayetanensis, which can cause diarrhea, bloating, vomiting, and other food poisoning symptoms.

Leafy greens 

Yes, even those packaged ones that are pre-washed. Prevention.com reports that these leafy greens still have the potential to carry bacteria like E. coli because they’re touched by so many hands. For your safety, wash all types of greens before eating and never consume them after any date posted on the bag. Why would you want a soggy salad anyway?

Sprouts

Sprouts are grown in warm climates, which makes them ideal breeding ground for bacteria right off the bat. Eat them past their ideal date (about two days after purchase) and your risk of getting sick increases. If you’re pregnant or already sick, avoid them altogether.

Shellfish

Like other seafood, raw shellfish can only last a day or two in the fridge before their bacteria can cause foodborne illnesses. Clams and scallops should be eaten no more than 24 hours after they are bought. Oysters eaten past their expiration date may contain vibrio vulnificus, bacteria that can cause blood poisoning. If you notice a funky odor from any seafood, throw it out immediately. On the other hand, some foods are so dangerous that eating them is actually against the law. These are the foods you never knew were banned in the U.S.

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