Remember to follow these rules for food safety

Sarah Purcel
Otoe County Extension

"Is this food safe, or should I throw it out?"
When in doubt, throw it out!  However, there are a few other guidelines that can help people know when it is time to throw out food.
Food can be classified into three groups: staple, semi-perishable, and perishable. Staple foods like sugar, dried beans, spices, and canned goods do not spoil unless they are handled carelessly.  However, they will lose their quality if stored over a year.
Semi-perishable foods include flour, grain products, and dried fruits. These can remain unspoiled for six months to a year if properly stored and handled.
Perishable foods, including meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, and many raw fruits and vegetables, need to be stored in refrigerators or freezers and should be used within several days. All cooked foods also are considered perishable foods. Although different foods have different storage guidelines, a good standard is to throw leftovers away after four days.
Consumers should pay attention for obvious signs of spoilage. Milk and other dairy products will have a sour smell. Throw away all foods that are moldy or slimy, even in just one spot.
The one exception to this is hard cheeses. If a block of hard cheese has mold on it, cut off the mold and the surrounding one inch of cheese.  The rest of the block will be edible.
Some foods, however, do not always have such obvious signs of spoilage, and foodborne microorganisms are impossible to detect. Pay attention to expiration dates, and do not eat foods after they have expired.
When storing leftovers, label them with the date they were put in the refrigerator or freezer.
Fresh and cooked meat should only be refrigerated for a few days and frozen at zero degrees Fahrenheit for a few months.
Fresh and cooked poultry should be refrigerated for only two days but can remain frozen for six months when cooked and up to eight months when raw.
While there are guidelines for food storage time, several other factors will determine how long a food will maintain quality and be safe to eat.
The storage life of food is affected by its freshness when it reached the store, the length of time and the temperature at which it was held before purchase, the temperature and humidity of home storage areas and the type of storage container or packaging used.
For more information, contact the Nebraska Extension in Otoe County Office at otoe-county@unl.edu or 402-269-2301.