Health

Smelly, sticky or slimy? Food safety rules you shouldn't ignore

March 5, 2014 at 11:17 AM ET

Video: Food expert Alton Brown joins TODAY to chat about trusting your gut when it comes to food safety habits.

When it comes to figuring out whether the food in your cupboards and fridge are spoiled, it’s best to trust your gut.

Your eyes, nose and fingers can tell you if food has spoiled, according to Alton Brown, host of the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen.” 

“We all have the senses to know when food has gone bad,” Brown said. “Smell it. If it smells bad, odds are you shouldn’t eat it. Touch it. If it’s slimy or sticky, don’t eat it. If you look at a piece of meat and it’s got splotches of green on it, you shouldn’t eat it.”

Each year one in six Americans gets sick from eating contaminated food. The best way to avoid becoming one of those stats is to take care in how you store and handle your food — and trust your senses.

Foods will last longest in a refrigerator kept below 40 degrees F. But many refrigerators aren't as cold as they need to be, even at the lowest setting. Invest in a thermometer so you know it really is cold enough.

How you pack your foods in the fridge makes a difference, too.

“Stack it so you’re keeping the foods that could be dangerous away from everything else,” Brown said.

  • Place meats in the bottom compartments. Meats produce a lot of fluid and you don’t want those juices to drip onto cooked foods or veggies and fruits contaminating them. Beyond that, in most refrigerators, the lowest temperatures are in the bottom shelves.
  • Store fish on ice, even if it’s in the refrigerator. That’s because fish goes bad faster than any other meat. 
  • Eggs be stored in the meat compartments rather than on the shelves in the door.

The biggest danger in your refrigerator is from contamination. “This may sound odd, but contaminated food will make you sick, but spoiled foods won’t necessarily make you sick,” Brown said.

When it comes to fruits and veggies, it’s OK to store them in the plastic bags you packed them up in at the store. 

To keep them freshest, Brown suggests packing a paper towel in the bag before putting it into to the fridge. The towel will absorb any moisture from produce respiration.

When it comes to thawing meats, whenever possible it should be done in the refrigerator, Brown said. And put them in a plastic container so they don’t drip all over everything eIse.

If you need a quick thaw then put the meat in a plastic bag in the sink and run a thin stream of cold water over it.

Another important tip: Always wipe down food preparation surfaces. Brown suggests using a solution of ¼ teaspoon of bleach in a cup of water.

And when you’re prepping fruits and veggies always rinse with cold water. If the surface is bumpy, then use a brush to get them clean, Brown said. 

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