It’s getting on in the evening, you know you should eat but you’re really not sure what you’ve got in. You need a proper meal because your diet of instant noodles, orange Fanta, and the occasional 4a.m. kebab is not doing you any favours. You peer into the fridge littered with half-packets of greenish bacon, dregs of Tesco’s own brand tomato salsa, and broccoli juice pooling in the veg draw.
You wonder what meal you could possibly make from the smattering of ingredients. More than that, you wonder what the consequences will be if you do manage to make a meal. Will it just taste bad? Bring on bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting? Possibly even kill you?
Didn’t you hear somewhere that rice can kill you?
As a demographic, we students are not exactly known for culinary prowess or inscrutable hygiene standards. Getting a better idea of how long different foodstuffs actually last will help you get the best value from your shopping, as “best before” dates can be misleading.
Here is a quick run-down of the main culprits, so you can avoid poisoning yourself with whatever is lurking in the back of your fridge.
Cooled and reheated leftovers is the classic way in which you’ll get yourself nice and sick. It’s recommended that you cool any hot food you want to keep within two hours, and then keep in the fridge in a lidded container, and leave no longer than two days. When you reheat it, make sure it’s hot the whole way through.
You can freeze most foods and leftovers as well. If it’s fresh when you freeze it, then it will be OK as long as you reheat it properly.
According to the extremely useful eatbydate.com, all milk will last 5-7 days past its printed “best before” date, not that milk lasts that long when you live with cereal guzzling housemates. In any case, it’s easy to tell if dairy products have gone off. Curdling, discolouration, and a fair stench are pretty reliable indicators. Basically, if it’s bad, you will know about it.
Mishandling meat is obviously a pretty good way to mess yourself up. You can freeze raw meat and fish before its “use by” and it will be good to eat again, as long as it is cooked through properly when heated. You can cool and refrigerate or refreeze cooled meat, as long as it is cooled properly and reheating thoroughly.
Some people are funny about this, but I quite often cook a load of sausages or chicken and then keep it in the fridge to use for sandwiches or pasta during the week. If it’s cooked well first time and cooled properly, then it will be good to eat.
Eggs are also a foodstuff of confusion. If they’re refrigerated, however, they last for 3-4 weeks past the “sell by” date. I have to have left an egg a long time for it to go off, and before that it might just have a funny texture when cooked.
And what’s the deal with killer rice?
I’ve been reheating my signature risotto dish since first year and never come down with food poisoning. But if you leave rice at room temperature spores of Bacillus cereus bacteria begin to multiply, and it’s this which will get you ill. Again, it’s all about the cooling, which you should do ideally within one hour, and then keep in a fridge and eat within one day, and reheat thoroughly. If you’re not sure, bin the risotto.
Hopefully this will help you not to inflict any serious damage on yourself in the kitchen, and may help you save a few pennies out of your weekly shop.