By Jessica – November 21st, 2009

Yesterday, in an attempt to find out whether the oyster sauce which had been lurking in my fridge for months was still edible, I stumbled across what appears to be an incredibly useful site: StillTasty—“Your ultimate shelf life guide.”

I’m pretty neurotic when it comes to food safety. An article on botulism I read a few years ago (“It only takes a taste!”) instilled the fear of god of me—or at least, the fear of Clostridium botulinum and its cohorts. And I know from first-hand experience that even run-of-the-mill, non-life-threatening food poisoning is absolutely miserable, so rather than taking a chance on a suspicious bottle of chili sauce or an aging bag of frozen shrimp, I will generally toss it out.

The thing is, I know I throw away perfectly good food out of fear of poisoning myself with dodgy condiments or dubious leftovers. I just find it difficult to gauge precisely when something has passed its “eat me” or “drink me” date. Obviously, if something that shouldn’t be moldy is moldy (hey, it happens), then I’m not going to eat it. But what about the things that look fine but might actually harbor very unpleasant bacteria? What about the stuff I’ve forgotten about in my freezer? What about that bottle of oyster sauce?

StillTasty provides answers to questions about things like refreezing thawed foods (fine if you’ve thawed them in the fridge), rinsing raw chicken (apparently you shouldn’t do it), and using canned foods beyond their “best by” date (not a problem if the cans aren’t damaged). Even better, you can browse by ingredient for detailed information on how best to store specific foods and how long they can be kept in the pantry/fridge/freezer. As someone who is only now coming to terms with the idea of storing things in the freezer for later use (we only recently acquired our first proper freezer, so it was never possible before), I find this particularly helpful.

StillTasty seems very trustworthy; it’s a US site, so its sources of information include the Centers for Disease Control and the US Department of Agriculture. If anything, that probably means the site’s recommendations are on the conservative side; after all, I personally would never cook a good steak to the USDA’s recommended internal temperature of 145F, even if that’s technically the safest thing to do. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the food you have hanging around your house, and it’s great to have a one-stop site for basic information on food storage and safety issues.

Incidentally, I wound up tossing the oyster sauce, even though I suspect it was still fine. In fact, I really hope it was still fine because I did try a tiny bit of it, and as the terrifying botulism article says, it only takes a taste…


When we moved my Grandma out of her house and into an apartment a few years ago, we found condiments dating from 2002 to 1987 in her refrigerator. The bulk were from the late 1990s.

The best part is that she and Bill were still using some of them to no real ill effect. I told my aunt to save the jam from Xmas 1987 as an artifact.

# Posted by Ms. Jen on

One of the things that surprised me most about the StillTasty site is that it appears most things will stay safe waaaay after their "expiration date"—their quality might decline, but they won’t hurt you.

My grandparents made homemade hot sauce, and they would keep and use it for decades with no problem. We always said nothing could grow in such spicy sauce!

# Posted by Jessica on

I note with dismay they agree with Stevie about storing Ketchup (that’s what you people call ‘Catsup’ for some reason?) in the fridge. Madness… I’ve had the stuff in cupboards forever in the past! On the plus side, I see they have an iPhone app :-)

I agree, the ketchup in the fridge thing is a matter of some contention. Brown sauce, too - where does that go? We keep our ketchup in the fridge but our brown sauce in the cupboard; I guess we’re hedging our bets. :-)

As for "catsup"…you got me there. My grandmother has always said catsup, but no one else in my family does. It’s a weird American anomaly!

# Posted by Jessica on

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