Throwing Out Food

Updated on March 14, 2011
S.M. asks from Zanesville, OH
24 answers

I just wanted to get some opinions on when you throw food out, or when you consider food to have "gone bad." My husband will throw away leftovers after 2-3 days in the fridge, and I will eat things that have been in there over a week. He also throws away milk and bread ON the expiration date. I will smell & taste milk to see if it's gone bad yet, and I'll check the bread to see if it's stale. I've always felt that expiration dates were just an estimate, but food can go bad before that date or long after. I feel like we're wasting a ton of food for no good reason. For example, the other day I cooked about 10 pounds of chicken breast in the pressure cooker. I turned it off and left it alone so it could cool off, and forgot about it. When I remembered, he had already throw it out, because it had set out at room temperature. I'm not sure if that's right or not - and that's a lot of money in the trash! It was still in the pressure cooker with the lid on, so it hadn't been exposed to the air, and I was going to recook it anyway. His point was that some of the chicken was still raw in the middle, and that could contaminate the rest. I just don't get it! So is he being paranoid? Or am I being naive?

Edit: I just have to clarify a few things. I like to prepare food in bulk, separate it into 3-4 smaller meals, use 1 the next day, and freeze the others. I usually do meat in the crockpot, but we just got this pressure cooker and I've been trying to make use of it. This particular batch of chicken had been cooked for an hour, cooled for about 20 minutes, cut up & turned, cooked for another hour, and I was planning on cutting it up some more and cooking it at least another hour before freezing it. Then it was bath & bedtime for the kids, and it took forever to get the baby to sleep, so I didn't get back to it.

Also, my husband knows he has food issues. He got food poisoning several years ago (from a deli, not anything we ate at home!) and has been very paranoid about everything he eats since then. I'm just trying to figure out some middle ground, where I can get us to stop wasting food, but he can still feel alright about what he's eating. The other day I caught him trying to throw out 3 bottles of unopened Italian dressing. He thought they had gone bad because the oil had separated, but I had to explain to them that's just how Italian dressing looks before you shake it up!!!

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answers from Baton Rouge on

I throw food out on a case by case basis - no hard and fast rule.
If it smells bad, out it goes, whether it has reached its expiration date or not. If it's past its date, but still smells fine, I eat it.
As for leftovers from meals, it's just the two of us, so I try to cook in amounts that we only have enough leftovers for a few days so that we don't get tired of the same food every day.

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answers from Washington DC on

I tend to throw meat out after about 2 or 3 days.
Casseroles after 3 or 4.
Hams will keep for a week.
MIlk, bread, cheese, if they smell bad or taste bad I pitch them, but I have had milk well over a week after its date be good and another gallon not yet at its due date go bad.

That chicken I probably would have thrown out though.

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answers from Youngstown on

most dates are "best if used by" and "sell by date" MANY products last WAY past the date! If it is going bad, you would know by sight or smell.. most likely! I was SHOCKED when my SIL threw away almost a WHOLE dozen of eggs when it was the date marked on the package! AUGHHHH!

If you ever had Food Poisoning, you might understand where he is coming from... He probably NEVER wants to feel like that EVER again and probably doesn't want you or anyone else to feel like that!

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answers from Philadelphia on

I usually base my decision on what type of food it is. Seafood I usually will not eat unless it is the following day. Most foods I keep for up to a week. We usually have "leftover" night on Tuesdays, which is also our trash day, so anything that is left after dinner goes out in the trash that night. It is a pretty good schedule and works well for us.

As far as milk and bread, I usually check it if it is after the expiration date, and watch it closely thereafter... if it shows signs of sour smell or grit around the cap, I ditch it.. bread is good as long as there is no mold and it is not stale... and if no mold, I can use the stale bread to make up breadcrumbs or croutons.

Investing in a good food storage system might be worth your while to save arguments... we have all lock and lock containers, they have a nice rubber seal, and once the handles are locked down, you know it has a good seal.

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answers from Salt Lake City on

Well, I am no scientist, so I can't give you facts to convince your husband, although you can Google "expiration dates", I know I have seen many articles on them in the past which have said that expiration dates are more of a guideline. However I do have a few suggestions that may help. (This is an area I have been working on like crazy- in fact, 5 min ago I just had a conversation with my kids about wasting food).
1- If your kids are old enough to understand, you can explain to them the concept of wasting food=throwing money in the garbage. My kids are 3,5 and 7 and the 2 older got it. I told them, "I spend $150.00 a week on groceries. When you eat half of what's on your plate and throw the rest away, that is like our family is throwing $75.00 worth of food right in the garbage. Maybe next week we should just throw the money straight into the garbage". (their faces were aghast). My depression-era grandmother's adage: "Take what you like, but eat what you take".
2- learn how to properly store produce. Storing it the correct way will help to prevent it going bad before you can eat it. We used to throw away garbage can-fulls of produce every 2 weeks. Not anymore. We hardly throw food out anymore (well, besides these kids!) is a great resource. DO NOT store apples in the same bowl as other fruits- they have a chemical in them that speeds up ripening and they will make your carrots taste funky if they are stored nearby. Remember produce does best if it is "naked and dirty"- take off its packaging and do not wash it until right before you eat it. You can also invest in some Tupperware Fridge Smart containers (about $80 a set) which are specially vented. My produce lasts longer in them (3-4 weeks for lettuce!)
3. Make a meal plan and post it. This really helps! write down all the stuff in your fridge and pantry and then come up with meal plans based on what you already have, then hit the store for the rest. That way you don't end up chucking a bunch of food gone bad.
4. Get a bunch of those disposable tupperware containers. Portion out leftovers into the containers and freeze them immediately. I use a permanent marker to label them with what they are, calories per serving, and the date. I have a freezer full of individual frozen meals and soups and I just nuke them for lunch or if I don't have time to cook dinner. This prevents leftovers from sitting in the back of the fridge to rot.
5. Assign someone to be in charge of clean up each night- right after dinner! Otherwise, there is a good chance you all will get too busy or forget about the food until the next morning and all those leftovers go in the trash, plus you have a huge mess to clean up.

Good luck!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I am with your husband-I always ere on the side of caution. I would never eat a leftover after 2 days. My DH on the other hand is like you-he will eat leftovers a week later.

With the raw chicken-he was def right. You never want to take a chance with that-its not worth it.

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answers from Dallas on

I'm with your husband. I don't keep leftovers but a few days. I get rid of dairy products and meat on their exp. date. As soon as bread seems to be getting stale, I use it only for toast. Most veggies can be cut up and frozen for use in soups and other dishes. I'm super careful with meat because it can make you very sick if contaminated.

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answers from Phoenix on

I have a one week policy on almost all leftovers. Bread gets tossed when moldy, milk a day or two past the expiration date, since I have young kids in the house.
As for the chicken, I TOTALLY agree with your husband. First, leaving hot food that is completely covered with no air exposure to cool to room temp is how bacteria forms. When I need to let something cool before putting it in the fridge, I make sure it is uncovered fully and put it in before it has totally reached room temperature. The fact that not all of the chicken was fully cooked makes leaving it covered tightly and out until room temperature a sure-fire recipe for salmonella, even if you planned to recook it. Your husband saved you all from major illness.

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answers from New York on

I am a self-admitted "expiration date snob" b/c things that have "dates" get used by that date or tossed. Something about it freaks me out- can't explain it, but my husband just goes with it!

Leftovers- depends on what it is. "Grains" like pasta or rice we leave for a week in air-tight containers. Proteins 2 or 3 days in containers, same for veggies.

1/2 cooked food goes in the trash b/c it freaks me out too.

Having said that (yes, this will sound braggish)- we are very careful about cooking only what we need, including intentional leftovers for later meals. Seriously- 10 pounds of chicken and you "forogot" about it? Some of it was raw... yes, that would have been tossed.

You're wasting food b/c you aren't planning your portions and meals. Don't buy items that you don't need that week. Don't buy things simply b/c they are on sale, but you don't have a "plan" for them and definitely don't defrost more than you need for a given meal.

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answers from Chicago on

When it comes to meat being potentially raw still I would probably side more with your DH and throw it away...if it had been more than a few hours. I think leftovers are good for 2-3 days. Anymore than that and it creeps me out. I will still use bread a few days after expiriation...With milk I throw it out after a week whether expired or not because I think it smells spoiled even if it isn't. :)

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answers from Minneapolis on


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answers from Milwaukee on

You are right that the expiration date is a guideline, with that I do follow the expiration date very closely on any dairy item package. I am very sensitive to food so even if it is good but getting close the expiration date I can taste a difference and toss it.

With food that has been sitting out (that needs to be kept cold/warm) it should not sit out for more then two hours. Around two hours it can start to have bad bacteria grow on it. To me chicken is a touchy situation, I have gotten sick from bad chicken because it sat raw at room temp for too long even after cooking it I get sick. Now I have seen/heard that you can eat raw chicken if your stomach is adjusted to it, same with eggs, but most are very sensitive to it.

Leftovers should be there no longer then a week. In our house they get eaten for lunches with in a day or two so leftovers do not last long. Anything that I have room to freeze, I freeze, and it will keep longer.

We were throwing away food more then I wanted so what I did was buy less and go to the store more. Freeze all meat or anything I could because then it last about 6 months (I take out tomorrows meal out the day before and stick in fridge) so I can buy 2-4 weeks worth at a time. Canned food last longer, but some canned items to use in the month. Anything fresh (fridge, fruit, veggies, bread and so on) I get every 6-7 days so little to no waste.

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answers from Seattle on

Most of the dates are "sell by" or "best by", not expiration dates. This is particularly so for milk, eggs, and bread. It does not have to be thrown out. For milk, especially, we use the smell test. Unless you're a smoker, this is more than adequate.

For better information (and something you can show your hubby so he'll believe you), go to this website. They tell you how long you can reasonably store items...

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answers from New York on

When I just move out my home I didn't had a refrigerator, some body told me that I could boil "some" food the next day so I could eat it.
I am not sure if this is right but I don't remember getting sick but is being a long time.
My mom "never" throw anything, she actually suffers when we go out to eat and throw the left overs. She would always find a way to reuse food, but she is a great cook.
I use to throw food on their expiration date but my husband use to make fun of me and tell me: "Look this bread is about to get bad at 5,4,3,2,1"
Now I smell it and see it before, except for eggs which I throw after 2 days of their expiration date.

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answers from Dallas on

I totally side with your husband on this one. Two or three days for leftovers and absolutely toss the chicken.

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answers from Norfolk on

You have to realize not every date on a package is an expiration date.
A lot of the time it's a sell by date and that means the food is typically good for several weeks beyond that date. This depends a lot upon proper storage. Milk sometimes goes bad before it's date if it got left out of the fridge for awhile.
I think your husband is probably throwing food out way before it goes bad.
It almost sounds like an obsessive/compulsive thing he's got going on. Either he can keep throwing money away on throwing food away, or he can spend the money on a therapist who might be able to help him a bit with this.
In the mean time, buy/prepare much smaller amounts of food.
Since it bothers him so much, he can shop for food daily and only buy what will be used within a day or two.



answers from Columbus on

So - about milk, technically it isn't an "expiration date" it is a sell by date. Big difference! That's the date that grocery stores can no longer sell after which means it's still good for a few days. My husband use to throw it out once it hit that date, but I had to show him it wasn't "expired" it just wasn't allowed to be sold at stores..... The chicken, I think was fine...especially if you were going to heat it up again before freezing and when you used it in a meal. Don't get me wrong, I don't keep eveything, but seems like lot sof food is being wasted when not necessary. Good luck trying to find a happy medium! -Also, I have volunteered at the food bank and they give (if I recall correctly) 6 months past expire date on things...... I don't think they could legally do that unless it was okay...



answers from Cincinnati on

I agree with your husband on the restaurant food. I think no more than 2 days on restaurant food. Milk, I usually start smelling it when it gets closer to the expire date and if it smells ok I'll drink it. I eat bread as long as its not super stale. Yogurt can go 7 days past the expiration.
Stuff like Mayonnaise and Miracle whip, I don't keep past its expire date. I just don't trust it. Condiments and Salad dressings, i usually let go past the expire but not like 6 months past.
As far as the chicken, I say if it sat more than 2 hours turned off without a lid on it, I wouldn't trust it. I don't know a whole lot about pressure cookers so maybe it was ok.
I clean out the fridge thoroughly about 3 times a year and that includes wiping down the shelves and sides. I will go through it every month if things seem to just be sitting in there not getting used. If some of the food is kind of iffy, I might throw it outside for the birds. I bought some hamburger buns not to long ago and they molded within 3 days. There was a hole in the bag so I gave the birds the non-molded parts.



answers from Cleveland on

A good rule of thumb is to throw leftovers out after 3 days. Yogurt is good for 7 days past the expiration date (I called a yogurt company once to confirm). Milk and bread are usually good for 1-2 days after their expiration dates. ALWAYS remember though, 'when in doubt, throw it out'. Food that has cooled to room temp should not used if it's set out awhile and hot food should be refrigerated hot so that bacteria cannot grow. Do NOT use cake mixes, etc. after their expiration dates as mold spores can grow and make one ill!! Hope this helps!



answers from Chattanooga on

I can't eat leftovers more than 2 days old. But that's mainly because growing up my SM used to keep leftovers in the fridge for WEEKS, and would just scrape off the moldy parts and make us eat them...



answers from Columbus on

I understand your frustration.

Generally, if it's less than 6 days old, I consider it safe, if the food is cooked all the way thrrough. Raw meat, though, I only leave in the fridge 2 or 3 days tops... After that, if it's not cooked I feel I have to pitch it.

Can you try to freeze the leftovers? Or take them for lunches at work?



answers from Pittsburgh on

The USDA has a food safety website with answers to a lot of these questions. Especially the pressure cooker and food temperature ones. Look at


answers from Washington DC on

i am totally with you.
:) khairete



answers from Canton on

I didn't read all your responses but in the March 2011 issue of Parents they have a small guide. It's on page 34. I don't worry about expiration codes very much. You have a week past the date, generally on dairy products before they go bad. i used to work in a grocery store. the vendors would say they items are still good past date. Just use your judgement. As for leftovers, if it smells and looks okay I will trust it for a week.

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