Can I Eat This, January 2009

For the first time this year, I bring you Can I Eat This, a catalogue of almost entirely revolting, occasionally reassuring, oftentimes hilarious questions regarding food safety, from the users of Ask Metafilter. The following are quotes from actual user’s questions.

– “Can I keep re-using the same cooking liquid over and over forever and ever amen?”
– “How do I tell whether beef or chicken stock/broth, that has been refrigerated, has gone yucky?”

the ever-popular poultry
– “Turkey brining fiasco – Is my turkey that has been sitting in cold tap water for the past 18 hours still good to cook?”
– “I bought a Value Pack of chicken thighs at Safeway, like the frugal shopper I am… and then promptly left them on the kitchen counter for 3 hours, like the absent-minded bumbler I am.”
– “Can I cook a chicken with the giblet bag in?

the car is not a refrigerator
– The other day I bought a package of a popular brand of vegetarian breakfast link ‘sausage.’ I bought it in the late morning and I forgot it in the cab of my truck for about seven hours on a day that saw temperatures reach the mid-60s.”
– “I got a fully cooked ham from my employer, put it out in my car trunk during the day, and forgot about it when I got home. Over the next few days, I didn’t remember it at all.”

condiments, spices, & accoutrements
– “What’s wrong with my Szechuan peppercorns?
– “Will an infused oil I make today, still be edible come Christmas?
– “Can mold grow on food packed in oil?
– “How long do condiment packets last? Recently I have opened duck sauce packets that had thickened to silly putty consistency and ketchup that had turned almost black. Also, are they dangerous to eat, or just gross?

an emergency!
– “Emergency should-I-Eat-This! Burger King Apple Fries showing discoloration.

– “I found a bug in my pistachio. 😦

boozy bread
– “Did I just make alcoholic bread? Can I eat it?”

dried sausage
– “If I have a big piece of dry summer sausage that’s developed mould, do I have to throw it away?”

thermos safety
– “Is it OK to keep tea+milk in a thermos for 24 hours before drinking?”

– “There is some absolutely delicious palak paneer that I had been saving for today because I didn’t finish it at the restaurant last night. When I got home from the restaurant I put it in the refrigerator with the intention of taking it to work this morning. I took it out of the refrigerator this morning and left it in the vicinity of the front door, but I forgot about it. So the question is, can I eat it when I get home?”

suspect fish and shellfish
– “Aw crap, I left some salmon out overnight. Is it still safe to eat?” (Elsa’s note: it’s worth directing you to this response, too, if only for a rare example of justified use of the usually grating and unnecessary blink tag.)
– “Should I eat it filter: Can of Bumblebee whole baby clams. Dumped them into my chowder only to notice that they looked a bit green.”
– “Bought a bag of frozen shrimp (cooked, tails on) on Saturday night. Husband defrosted about half of it by running it under water, then changed his mind and cooked something else for dinner. Shrimp has been in the refrigerator since (in sealed tupperware). Is it still OK to eat? Will it be OK tomorrow (i.e. 3 days since defrosting)? How about Wednesday?
– “I boiled about a half cup of quinoa with powdered vegetable broth yesterday at lunch time, then mixed in a can of tuna and two cans of salmon… Mixture was left unrefrigerated for ~20 hours… So, can I eat it?

warm mayo
– “I bought a sandwich from a deli 14 hours ago (ham salami cheese and mayo) and left it out unrefrigerated. Can I still eat it and not get sick?”

slow cooker, slow cleaning
– “For various reasons I’d rather not go into, none of them particularly good, the ceramic cooking portion of my Crock Pot was filled with soapy water and beef stew remains, but also various muck like laundry detergent and Comet. When I poured the mixture out, there was a slimy blue residue at the bottom. I used dish soap and rather hot water to clean out the nastycrap, and soaked and washed it like three more times, and now I’ve got some water in there cooking on the high setting to try to get it to boil.”

cat litter, mmm
– “Let me be clear here: I have no intention of actually eating cat litter. But! We recently switched to the laboriously named Swheat Scoop-brand cat litter (which works quite well), which appears to be made of nothing but dried, cracked wheat.
Could I, say, cook this stuff up in some hot milk or water, add a little butter and brown sugar, and enjoy a piping hot kitty-litter breakfast? If not, why not?”

poison mushroom? no — poison ivy!
– “One of my favorites. Chicken of the woods. It has both the taste and texture of chicken. On the way home I spotted it on the side of the road. I told my wife and then after her night class, she stopped and harvested it. When she brought it in I noticed bits of poison ivy poking out of it. Mostly stems but also a few leaves and berries. I’m sure this was poison ivy.”


Can I eat this, NaBloPoMo 2008 edition

Once again, it’s time to visit the odd, unofficial category of questions that forms my favorite subset of the Ask Metafilter archives. Yes, it’s the “Can I eat this?” category! (Previously on macbebekin.) In this round, we see such subjects as:

cheese, a perennial favorite in Can I eat this? territory
– “[T]his particular block of Swiss cheese… has been in my fridge for 2 years. Yes, 2 years. It was a joke that’s not funny anymore. Anyways, is the cheese safe to eat? The visible discoloration is worrisome.” Mmmmm, worrisome!
– “I left my blue cheese in the fridge for a month – will eating it kill me? It’s moldy already, right?”
– “… a mozzarella block, loosely wrapped in plastic with an exposed end, a block of parmesean (same wrap situation), and a tub of fresh mozzarella in olivine. It was left out for approxamately 20 hours. Is any of it recoverable for tonight’s pizza?”

– “…instead of tasty yellow artichoke hearts, I have thorny stuff and furry stuff.”
– “There is a small pile of garden zucchini that has been sitting on the kitchen counter for about two months, right between the sink and an always-open window (to let in the Cleveland summer). Should I eat it?”

– “Can severely freezer-burned chicken be ‘rescued’?”
– “How long can chicken be frozen and remain good (as in not dangerous) to eat?”
– “So I know you aren’t supposed to brine a butterball turkey, but I’ve already bought the turkey and all the brining stuff, what’s the worst that can happen?”
“Has my turkey expired? Should i not deep fry this bird?”
– “Would it still be safe to make a soup today from Christmas turkey leftovers?” It boggles me how many people think suspect leftovers are rendered safe in a soup, as if boiling the hell out of spoiled meat destroys the toxins. PSA: It does not. Typically, the toxins in spoiled food are a by-product of bacteria, and not vulnerable (as bacteria is) to heat.
– Happily, the responders to this question knew that. The poster describes how he made a pot of chicken stock on Monday, then “forgot about it. Yesterday (tuesday) came and went, and it is still sitting on the stove. Today is Wednesday. If I boil it again for a bit of time, will it be ok to eat?” The overwhelming response? Oh my sweet lord, no, and one poster kindly linked to the wikipedia entry on heat-stable enterotoxins, which survive up to 100 degrees Celsius.

smelly pork
– “Bad pork or just a bad smell? Opening the bag, the pork smells horrible, sorta like rotten eggs. Rinsing it off reduced but did not eliminate the smell.”

– “For how long does fatty pig skin stay good in the fridge?”
– “How long will an opened tin of goose fat last in my fridge, assuming that I cover it with cling film and treat it with the respect that it so richly deserves?”

sauces and savories
– “How does pesto go bad? Will it silently kill me?… Will I just get some gas? Hallucinations? Or should I put on my coat and start walking to the mortuary while I can still get there on my own?”
– “[T]he label on the olive salad recommended that the jars be kept refrigerated even before opening them. [But] I didn’t have a refrigerator in my hotel room for my 7 day stay in Vegas.”
– “BotulismFilter: Should I eat this? I put some sun dried tomatoes in a jar and covered them with olive oil… My friends suggested that it might be a bad idea to eat them because they’ve been sitting in a jar in my pantry for six months. I think that the olive oil makes them safe. Somehow.”

luxury foods
– “Is there anyway that I can refridgerate [this $40 appetizer of pastry-wrapped baked brie with truffled crabmeat] and re-cook it tomorrow and still have it be awesome?… Is there any chance for bacteria build up from the crab if i do try to reheat it?

sweets and snacks
– “Does anybody know the shelf life of altoids? I have a container thats probably several years old, if not older.”
– “Okay. I just finished this box of Pocky and there was this little prize in the box. I ate it. What the hell was it? … Was it incense? Candy? A bouillon cube?”
– “What is this black, salty, bug-eggy powder that I find in about 1 of 10 peanuts when I crack them open?” I’m just guessing here that a) the “black, salty, bug-eggy powder” is, y’know, bug eggs, and b) you shouldn’t eat enough to know it’s salty.
– “I just ate a few bites of trail mix before noticing that the bag was infested with weevils. WILL I DIE??”
– “What’s with the white spots on these Medjool Dates? … Being adventurous, I’ve eaten a few and they haven’t made me sick or killed me – they actually taste perfect. But I’m still curious what these dots are (and if they’ll kill me a few weeks from now).”
– “Is it safe to cook with over-ripe strawberries?”
– “I’m making raspberry preserves. I want to use half-pint jars instead of the pint jars the recipe specifies. However, I’m a little paranoid.”

“How long will deviled eggs keep in the fridge before they go bad?”
– “I completely forgot, and left a sealed box of Egg Beaters on my counter for about 5 or so hours. Are they still safe to use?”

– “Do dried lentils go bad? I have a bag of red lentils in an airtight container and they have been there for a while. What’s weird is that they are no longer red.
“What is going on with my beans?!”

misc. dinners
– “[The package of stuffed pasta shells with egg and prosciutto] does say on the packaging ‘Keep Refrigerated’ (before cooking, I assume) but what it DOESN’T say is, ‘If you were drunk last night and left it on the kitchen counter because you forgot to put it in the fridge, don’t eat it because it will already have spoiled even if you cook it.’
– “Bonehead left his chinese food out… Pork fried rice. Hot and Sour soup (with beef). My kitchen is likely to hit the mid-to-high 80’s for several hours today. Has my lunch grown enough microbes to make me sick? Even after reheating?”

– “Should I filter my well water? [… It] leaves a blue tint in the tub and shower.”
– “omg I drank charcoal! my brita filter leaves little bits of charcoal in the filtered water. are these harmful in any way?”
– “I know the water is great in NYC, but after the city cleaned some pipes near me, the water has been coming out darker.”
– “Will using ice that melts and is then refrozen over a couple of weeks (thru a portable icemaker) make me sick?… Is there a risk of getting sick from some bacteria growth or legionnaires disease or something?”

– “I have an 8.45 ounce bottle of Sam Adams Triple Bock, ca. 1994… Safe to drink? Keep aging? Bury in a landfill?”
– “Assuming there are no signs of spoilage, is it safe to drink 10 year old grape juice that I canned myself?”
“Is congealed milk solids the norm for glass-bottle milk?”
– “What are the metallic looking spots that float on top of my iced tea?”
– “I made a jug of iced tea from juice crystals about 2 weeks ago and it has been sitting in the fridge (uncovered, if that matters) ever since. Is it safe to drink?”

kitchen equipment
– “What has been indelibly burned into my skillet? Should I go to the emergency room now or should I save time and just start start organizing my affairs?”
– “Is it safe to clean the loose dirt off mushrooms using canned air?”


A bonus Can I eat this? question! (Okay, more accurately, it’s a What the hell did I eat? question, but let’s not quibble.) The case of the boozy backpack quinoa has lurked queasily in my mind since I read it back in February.

… [I] discover the container of food in my backpack, where it’s been sitting for a couple of days in a fairly warm environment. I chow it all down, noting that it tastes – and smells – funky. Sour, bitter, but not altogether bad. Additionally, the zucchini slices look and taste more like pickle slices.
It’s 30 minutes later now, and I swear to God I have a little bit of a buzz on.


Can I eat this? redux

Knowing that I’d missed at least one Can I eat this? question posed to AskMe, I scoured the archives… and found even more than before:

Freezer fiasco
“Sell-Before” Sauerbraten
highly suspect pork
lots of suspect pork!
Another crockpot/chicken question
Spam from the trunk of a car

five-day-old pizza dough
refreezing thawed hash browns and fries
overnight rice
a nice puttanesca, perhaps?
pasta, canned sauce, and canned fish, all past their “Best Before” dates

backpack Velveeta and cupboard Colby
– The positively Biblical-sounding honey from a fallen hive
13-year-old triple bock
Why must I cook Patak’s curry paste?
really miscellaneous
I can’t stop eating sand.

fizzy tomato sauce
fizzy salad dressing
fermented applesauce

Kulfi: explosive, poisonous, both, or neither?

putatively healthful
Is this health drink harmful?

a splash of color
Why has my garlic gone blue?
Wait — why has my garlic turned blue?
Okay, then, why has my garlic turned fluorescent green?
Why is my coconut milk blue?
I am participating in NaBloPoMo.

Don’t put your lips on it!

[note: Ask Metafilter’s Can I eat this? questions deserved their own tag, so here it is.]

The hive mind at Ask Metafilter draws on a pool of 60,000 members to answer questions on any topic: romantic, technical, medical, cultural. But perhaps the most entertaining discourse, second only to Steve, Don’t Eat It!, occurs in the wake of the question “Is this safe to eat?” Here I present a compilation of food safety questions from AskMe. Goggle in amazement as people take chances with:

– “How long will scrambled eggs keep?”
– “I hard-boiled a dozen eggs this morning. They’ve been sitting in the same water they boiled in which is now at room temperature (about 20C/70F) for approximately six to eight hours.
– “The ice cream made with this maybe-undercooked custard is in the mixer right now.”

– “… today I learned that you’re very much not supposed to store raw veg & raw chicken together in the fridge overnight, and now I know better than to do it again. But…
– “ XMAS DINNER: Is it safe to eat these leftovers?” [I would totally eat these, and very recently did eat turkey & stuffing similarly mistreated.]
– “Pizza [topped with chicken] purchased hot on Wednesday night and kept in the fridge till Friday….Good to eat?”
– “Should I eat this cooked chicken in my fridge? 6-7 days old, and in a zip-loc.”
– “I left a [chicken patty with mayo] sandwich in my car this morning, unfortunately on the back deck (sedan).”

fish and shellfish!
– “I made a tuna sandwich for lunch and left it at home [on the counter]. Will it still be edible?”
– “How long is it safe to keep cooked shrimp in a refrigerator before eating?”
– “Erm, I just ate raw swordfish… Am I gonna die?”
– “I just found some frozen scallops in the back of my refrigerator, and I imagine they have been there for about two years.”

preserved pork
– “Is it OK to eat raw pancetta? It tasted good, but it was very, very chewy, so chewy that I ended up having an unchewable lump of fat in my mouth that I had to spit out.”

the savory course
– “ How long does Chevre keep?
– “I left my cheese out overnight. Is it still okay to eat?”
– “Mmm, walnuts. Hey, what’s that cobweb stuff?
– “This wine’s cork has gritty brown crystal and organic matter on the bottom. What is that? Is it bad?”

taters and tomaters
– “If I remove the sprouts, are these potatoes safe to eat?
– ” ‘Refrigerate after opening,’ says the tomato sauce. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

potential botulinum carriers
– “Would homemade mango chutney which was placed in a strawberry jam jar as soon as it was made and hasn’t been opened since (as far as I know) still be OK to eat after one year in a pantry cupboard at room temperature?
– “Why did my hummus explode?” After being advised that exploding hummus may well indicate botulism, which produces no off smell or taste and can easily be deadly or debilitating, the original poster adds “It totally smells fine. I have yet to decide about eating it.”

And finally, my two favorites. One, a simple question seeking an inventive answer:
– “Can I eat a live wasp? If so, what would the safest method of eating it?”

Second, a long dramatic arc detailing the struggle between financial prudence and every other kind of prudence:
– “But hey, this is expensive crab meat.

I am participating in NaBloPoMo.


In a recent Ask Metafilter question about undrinkably bitter lemonade, I gave a few quick tips on keeping the tart, zingy flavor from the lemon zest without extracting the pith’s bitterness, and some quick instruction on making infused simple syrup.

To my surprise, my off-the-cuff comment was added to the sidebar on the main page of MeFi.

Wow. People like lemonade.

The admins labeled my comment as “perfect lemonade recipe,” but it’s not a proper recipe with measurements and proportions, just a few hints for tarting up your favorite lemonade. Here’s the proper recipe, along with a recipe for ginger iced tea, and a few hints for cooling summer drinks:

Continue reading

Ask Me!

If you’re still not using Ask Metafilter, you’re missing out.
You’re missing intense and geeky discussions of specific word usage and shifts in the language.

You’re missing fun and useful threads of advice, like this one on getting through the winter.

You’re missing semi-sociological conversations about power dynamics and gendered space, like this question asking “What happens when men pass each other on the sidewalk?”:

Help me understand the power dynamics in play when two men pass each other on the sidewalk.
Over the last few years I’ve started to get an inkling that there’s a whole separate silent conversation happening between men on the street that I, as a woman, am not really ever aware of. How they make eye contact, how much space they allow for each other to pass, who moves aside, etc. When someone bumps me with their arm I assume it’s accidental; I’m starting to think such things between men are not always so (at least if the number of almost-fistfights my ex got into are any indication).

I realize much of this probably happens on an unconscious level, but I’d love to hear any explanations or rules anyone can lay out, and whether this is a constant thing or contextual.

The ensuing discussion is fascinating and in some places contentious.

Anyone can read Ask Metafilter, and if you pay the $5 cover, you can join, ask one question each week, and give advice all the live-long day.