Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Let It All Go Bad

Good news everyone! You should feel free to go ahead and eat that spoiled food in the back of the fridge, because it's probably fine. On the other hand, if it seems fine, it may still be lethal, so you should probably let it spoil.

This Slate article helpfully explains the difference in the two types of bacteria that may be encountered in food, noting that spoilage bacteria, which makes things decompose in a repellent fashion, is generally harmless because it can't survive inside our warm, acidic stomachs, while pathogenic bacteria, which lives comfortably inside the guts of animals, may make us violently ill without causing any change in the taste, odor or texture of the food.

I think the smell and consistency of spoiled food might me violently ill, but I guess it's all what you're accustomed to and how desperate you are. This probably explains delicacies like rotten shark, and pretty much all cheeses when you get right down to it, but especially the more pungent ones.

I have eaten pungent cheeses with great enjoyment, but found the cured shark fairly disgusting and had to wash down with a hearty swig of vodka. Again, it's all what you're accustomed to.

Not stated in the article, but obviously implied to the extent that, logically, we must all base our future dietary practices upon it, is that we should not eat any normal-looking foods ever again because they could easily be harboring pathogenic bacteria.

Only food riddled with spoilage bacteria, which signal safety with their revolting presence, should be consumed by anyone who wishes to survive another day without ceaseless vomiting.

Hey, I'm just drawing conclusions here.

It is interesting, though, that the traditional test of whether or not something is still good (sniff it, examine it for unusual coloration or texture, maybe taste a tiny bit) is not really going to tell you much.

I mean, it will still tell you whether or not you personally want to eat a thing, which certainly means something for anyone with the luxury of discarding food they don't want to eat in favor of food they find less objectionable, but it apparently doesn't reliably tell you whether or not it's safe to eat it.

I guess this does explain why my cavalier attitude regarding the age of leftovers has yet to lay me low. I always figure if it's still recognizably the thing I put in the refrigerator, and doesn't stagger me with a rank odor when I open the container, then it's probably fine.

Now I know that even if it's turned into some unrecognizable, blotchy mass that fells me to the floor with its nostril-searing bouquet, it's probably fine.

I think I still won't eat it at that point, though. Because that's not what I'm accustomed to.


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