I had a friend point out that any cookbook for a totally inexperienced cook really needs a chapter on safety. I totally agree.
Chapter 4 – Safety.
Dry goods like flour or rice will last indefinitely if sealed in airtight containers to keep out pests. Some insects however are so aggressive they will chew through a thin plastic bag to get to beans or nuts or flour they can smell. Be aware even the cleanest super market or fruit market will be a potential source of all sorts of pests. I’ve brought broccoli at the farmers market that was full of green caterpillars. Once we bought a bag of peanuts in the shell full of moths that took forever to run down the last. Fruit flies inhabit many banana bunches.
Canned goods will last well past the use by date but the taste and appearance, as well as the nutritional value fall off with time. Things like spaghetti sauce in glass jars lasts much better.
If any container is leaking or bulged it is lethal. Toss it.
Some foods are their own source of spoilage. Chicken and other birds often carry Salmonella germs, as do eggs. Pork is just as much a source of parasites today as in earlier times. Government inspection is for TB nor for parasites. All these things need to be cooked thoroughly all the way through. If you like your eggs with the yolks liquid you will have to accept the risk they will occasionally make you ill. If you are very old or feeding it to young children, or anyone with a compromised immune system it is simply not worth the risk. It can be lethal.
The commonest route for food poisoning is not direct spoilage, but cross contamination from a chicken or raw eggs or such left on a hand that grabs a bowl or spoon or is leaked on a countertop and not wiped up. Pretend you are prepping for surgery and you will be safe. Paper towels may seem a waste of money but they eliminate one vector of spoilage.
Any meat that is ground spoils much quicker than a whole piece. The bacteria from the air is incorporated into it in grinding instead of just working from the surface. The same with thin sliced lunch meats that have so much area exposed.
Any hamburger with a pink or red center has some risk. I suggest if you cook them that way know that your store ground the meat fresh the day you bought it. There is still risk if they don’t clean their grinder perfectly. It is impossible to remove all risk in life. But you will have to decide the risk/benefit level that works for you.
Fish and shellfish are notorious for hazard. Trust your nose. If it has an ammonia sharpness to it don’t buy it or use it.
Fresh mushrooms rarely last more than a day before they deteriorate.
Meat dishes and dishes with sauce on them need to be put in the refrigerator as quickly as possible after everyone is served. Some kinds of bacteria will grow even in a refrigerator. If anything has a slimy coating that is likely a bacterial plaque. Toss it. I will cut a moldy spot off a block of cheese or a bad spot from an apple. But if you have any serious doubt about the safety of food don’t take risks with your health. If it smells ‘funny’ or tastes ‘off’ or vinegary toss it.
Dairy products that are labeled ultrapastuerized last much longer than conventionally pasteurized. Some people don’t like the slight ‘cooked’ flavor but they are a better value if you have a hard time using a container before it goes sour.
Most fruit will ripen and go bad faster if it is all kept together or bagged. They emit ethylene gas which if concentrated speeds the ripening process.
Potatoes last much longer if kept slightly cool and dry and in the dark. Light makes them sprout and go soft and they will turn green and develop a bitter chemical which will give you a stomach ache if you eat them. It helps to examine the whole bag when you buy them and remove any with bad spots or cuts to use first. I can remember my grandmother wrapping each potato in a sheet of newspaper to make them last longer. I’m not sure how much longer we will have newspapers to use for things like that. It may soon read like an old cookbook suggesting you keep things in the root cellar or spring house.
If you are given a gift of any low acid food like green beans that have been home canned I suggest you boil them for fifteen minutes as this will destroy any botulism toxin. High acid tomatoes and most jams and preserves are pretty safe. I have to know a canner well to trust them.
A lot of ‘free’ containers food comes in are well worth saving to use for storing other items.
Anything like potatoes or mushrooms that you feel you won’t use before they go bad can be cooked and held in the frig’ longer in that condition. Diced boiled potatoes for example can be used in soup or stew or to make breakfast fried potatoes. They’ll last a week sometimes in the refrigerator.