We’ve all had those moments: doubting whether this tomato is still any good, or if that wilting lettuce really is okay to use in your salad. Food, inevitably, goes bad. I find this a problem especially with students; you’re super busy, but you still bought groceries with every intention of using the fresh ingredients for dinner one night…but then life got away from you and before you know it, that fresh lettuce isn’t so fresh anymore. It’s okay, though! You can cut back on food waste by understanding when food is and is not safe to eat, and how to properly organize your refrigerator for optimal food storage.

If you’re not sure about what is and is not safe to eat, take a look at these tips:

  • Wilting, wrinkling and softening:
    • Food ages like people: not so gracefully. Just because your lettuce may look a little droopy, doesn’t mean it’s not edible.
    • When produce wilts and wrinkles, its just due to loss of moisture. This is easily fixed by giving it a 5 to 10 minute ice bath, or simply by cooking it.
  • Browning:
    • Apples, bananas and potatoes undergo browning when their inner faces are exposed to oxygen, as the skin usually protects it.
    • To counteract browning, refrigerate and treat with an acidic solution, such as lemon juice.
  • Bruising and scarring:
    • Bruising is merely the produce being bumped around a little–it’s still perfectly fine to eat! You should remove the bruised portion, however, as the bruise could be an opening for microbes.
    • Scarring is a result of growth, and shouldn’t be a worry. Scratches that happen after, however, are like bruises–they can open the produce up to microbes, so make sure to cut them out.
  • Curdled or sour milk:
    • Technically sour milk won’t make you sick, it just doesn’t taste good. Milk becomes increasingly acidic as it ages, and therefore does not harbour microbes.
    • Only pasteurized milk is okay to drink, however!
  • Rotting:
    • As gross as this may sound, “soft” rotting food isn’t bad. The bacteria attacking the tissue of the produce is not the same kind that can give you food poisoning.
    • Just make sure to remove the rotting portions before cooking.
  • Discoloured greens:
    • Lettuce sometimes turns a little brown at the end, which is called “tip burn.” This is a result of a nutrient deficiency during growth, and doesn’t mean the lettuce is going bad.
    • Brown spots and stains are a result of exposure to oxygen or carbon dioxide, and are not indicative of disease.
  • Green potatoes, moldy or rancid food are a for-sure no!
    • Green potatoes contain toxins that are not killed off by cooking.
    • Same with mold, though you may be able to salvage some of the food if you cut off the moldy part with a 1/2″ to 1″ margin.
    • Fatty and oily foods decompose more rapidly than less fatty foods, and tend to smell and taste bad. Light, air, moisture, and outside bacteria can speed up this process–so make sure to store anything like fish, poultry, game birds, and even nuts, in opaque, air-tight containers in cool temperatures.