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Food poisoning is so bad I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, not even my ex-mother-in-law. The Center for Disease Control estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne disease. That is a lot of unhappy bathroom time. So it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of buzz about a brand new gadget called the FOODsniffer, a portable, smart, electronic nose that measures temperature, humidity, ammonia, and other potentially dangerous organic compounds coming of your meat, poultry or fish. It then Bluetooths the data to an app on your phone that analyzes it for freshness and tells you if it’s safe to eat or cook. Before you go adding it to your Christmas list you should know that, this first-of-its-kind, Swiss-made gadget has a price tag of $130.
While the bulk of us may have to wait for later, cheaper versions of the smart nose to enter the marketplace, here are some tips for how to smarten-up the one on your face and protect yourself from proteins that have gone bad.
Smell is perhaps the quickest and most reliable indicator. Meat that is off will have a nasty smell that immediately makes you turn away. Keep in mind that just because there isn’t a rotten smell doesn’t mean it’s safe — sorry. Bacteria could be lurking within meat that isn’t “rotten” and having you regret the fast food burger you ate for lunch in a whole new way. Make sure the meat also doesn’t smell like bleach or ammonia, which means it may be old but passed off as fresh.
Texture is a little bit more subtle, but you can usually tell that any sliminess or stickiness, is not a good sign. Combined with an unpleasant odor? Adios, my little friend.
Color is an indicator, too. Some gray or browning is natural, particularly with ground meats. Green is another story; stay away from green.
Always check the sell-by date, and don’t forget to factor in how many days it will stay in your fridge until you plan on cooking. A good rule of thumb is two days past the sell-by date as a cutoff. Also, if you find yourself with ground meat that has gone past the sell by date by more than a day or two, just cook it (but never cook it if it smells bad). Cooked ground meat will stay good for a week if properly stored.
With fish, however, a bit of a fishy smell doesn’t mean it’s suspect, but the smell should be subtle and not the kind that makes you scrunch up your nose. I always ask to smell fish before I buy it and you should, too. Another indicator for fresh fish is moist, firm flesh that bounces back when you touch it. When you’re buying whole fish, clear (not cloudy) eyes, and bright red or pink gills means it’s actually the “catch of the day.”