I am a college student who is sometimes a foodie, sometimes a garbage disposal. There is plenty of good food that some of my peers would turn their noses up at. But sometimes I wonder if this is not just disgusting, but actually bad for my health.

Food service standards are not what I am looking for here. Those are already clearly too stringent to me. Rather, I am looking for some rules of thumb about when I should not just cut or scrape the bad parts but trash the whole thing.

  • 4
    Depends on your preference. How much do you dislike food poisoning? Jul 18, 2010 at 3:23
  • 3
    This is too vague to answer clearly. If it were about a specific type of food, that would probably be OK, but just asking about "left-overs" isn't objectively answerable. Note that the top-voted answer recommends exactly this; find out what you need to know about individual foods.
    – Aaronut
    Jul 18, 2010 at 17:40
  • Agreed that this is vague. Though, to me "there is no general rule of thumb because didn't foods have different standards" is a decent answer. Jul 18, 2010 at 19:05
  • The website stilltasty.com has a lot of info about the shelf life of foods, and the best way to store. Oct 16, 2014 at 8:48

4 Answers 4


When in doubt, throw it out. It's cheaper than a hospital visit.

If you are wanting to save money, be proactive and find out the best way to store each food, and how long it can be stored.

Some things lose taste and texture as they age (even in the proper environment), while some things begin to grow dangerous kinds of bacteria or molds. For example, hard dry bread gets turned into french toast. Moldy bread gets thrown away.


Yeah, seriously. When in doubt, throw it out:

  • if it has become moldy. Old wisdom was that with cheese, just scrape away the mold and you're fine. Problem is, mold spores can penetrate very deep, and some of them can be toxic.

  • if it is soft and squidgy when it should be firm, and vice versa.

  • any visible rot. With potatoes, cutting it away is fine. With small fruits, I wouldn't bother.

  • any off-odour. Contrary to common knowledge, you cannot always detect spoilage via your nose. But you can guarantee that anything that smells bad is bad.

  • slime or ooze.

  • if it is a dangerous material (raw meat, dairy, etc) and is well past its best before date. One day after? Maybe okay; it's your digestive tract. Much more than that? No.

  • Agreed on most but the 'best before' date -- the problem is that it's not a good value, as it has to assume less than ideal food storage for legal liability issues. I'm not going to make kitfo out of meat past its prime, if it's properly cared for (eg, specifically aging the meat), the 'best by' date isn't the best indicator. (or 'sell by date' ... maybe 'use by' but again, how it's handled is more important)
    – Joe
    Jul 18, 2010 at 13:10
  • Coming from family that does a lot of gardening, we consume plenty of produce that had some damage that we removed (bruising, bugs, etc). I would at least distinguish between damage and general aging. Jul 18, 2010 at 19:20
  • In the UK, and I imagine the entire E.U. there's a clear distinction between 'best before' and 'use by'. Some foods have one and some have the other. It's only 'use by' dates that should be a safety issue. Meat and dairy products would generally have a use by date, not a best before.
    – bdsl
    Aug 26, 2015 at 11:00

If you don't remember when you got it, throw it out.

My general rule is 1 week.


Controversial answer, but: if it doesn't taste good. Spoiled food is disgusting in texture (mealy, slimy), taste (pungent, bitter, chemical), and smell (rotten, sour, noxious).

Any food more than a day old should really be reheated anyway. But don't reheat something that doesn't taste good beforehand.

In short, don't go by rules. Go by looks and your senses.

p.s. Don't smell or taste more than necessary to test the product.

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