There's a lot our refrigerators can do, but keeping our food fresh forever is not one of them. Here are 12 types of items that we oftentimes store a little (or way) too long for our safety.
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The refrigerator is a godsend—without one we'd be running to the grocery store every day and throwing food out left and right. But refrigerators can't keep our food fresh forever. Here are 12 types of items in your fridge that probably need to be checked.

Expired Condiments

I have a confession to make: I like to collect condiments. At any given time, you'll find at least two, if not three, varieties of the same condiment (yes, we have both regular and Japanese mayo in the fridge). Hoarding so many condiments inevitably leads to many that expire or go bad before we're able to finish them. If your condiment collection looks anything like ours, you should probably go through your fridge and check to see which ones are still good and which ones need to be thrown out. According to the USDA, here's how long some popular condiments will last in the fridge:

  • Ketchup, cocktail or chili sauce: 6 months
  • Chutney: 1 to 2 months
  • Horseradish: 3 to 4 months
  • Mustard: 12 months
  • Olives: 2 weeks
  • Pickles: 1 to 3 months
  • Mayonnaise and salad dressing: 2 months

When in doubt, do a sight and sniff test. If it has separated or there's visible mold, toss it. If it looks OK but has an off smell, toss it.

Deli and Cured Meats

One of our favorite workday lunches is the good ol' deli or cured meat sandwich. It's easy and fast, and always delicious. Although deli and cured meats are preserved, they don't have a super-long shelf life. Deli meat should be consumed within three to five days of opening the package, and cured meats, such as prosciutto, should be eaten within two to three weeks. If you have any preserved meats that are beyond those time frames, throw them out. Better to be safe than sorry.

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods like kimchi, pickles and miso are great items to have stocked in the fridge—they bring so much life to a meal. Fermented foods can be stored for a long time, but that doesn't mean they can last indefinitely. If your kimchi and pickles have a white film on top or mold growing, there's no way of salvaging them—throw them out. For foods like miso, if the color, texture and smell have changed significantly, it's time for them to go.

Ground Meat

Our grocery list always includes some kind of ground meat. We love how quickly it cooks and all the different ways it can be used. Unfortunately, the USDA says that ground meat needs to be used within two days of purchasing. This is because ground meat undergoes more processing and handling, which makes it more prone to bacterial growth. If you don't plan on using your ground meat right away, store it in the freezer and thaw it in the refrigerator one day before you plan on using it.

Soft Cheeses

A cheese plate every Friday is a pandemic ritual we plan on continuing until the end of time. What can we say, cheese and a little wine at the end of the workweek makes us happy. Unfortunately, our favorite types of cheese, the softer kinds like goat cheese and Brie, don't have a long shelf life—about one to two weeks depending on the variety. If your cheese drawer is currently full of half-finished wedges and containers of soft cheese, do an inventory check and chuck any that have been around for more than a couple of weeks.

Food Stored in Tins

Canned foods are a lifesaver. We have some stored in an emergency kit in case of a natural disaster, and we have some in our pantry for when we want to put together a quick meal. If you don't finish the entire can and haven't gotten into the habit of storing extras in an airtight container, we suggest you do. Refrigerating an open can will make the contents dry out faster, absorb unwanted odors and even expose them to cross contamination. If you happen to have opened cans in your fridge that are more than a day or two old, we suggest you throw them out.

Moldy and Slimy Produce

We cannot resist a good deal, but sometimes that means we end up buying more fruits and vegetables than we can eat. Although the coupon-clipper in us wants to cut off the moldy bit and eat the part that looks OK, in terms of food safety, the whole thing should be thrown out. Mold has roots and so even if it doesn't look like it's everywhere, the entire piece is probably contaminated. Same goes with slimy produce. That slippery white coating means that your produce has already begun to rot. Throw it into the compost pile.

Broth or Stock

One of our favorite ways to stretch our rotisserie chicken is by making homemade stock or broth with the bones. We've found that using stock instead of water gives our soup a flavor boost without any additional effort or time. The thing about refrigerated stock or broth is that you need to use it in about four days or else it's no good. If you have no plans to make a big batch of soup, or can't use up that stock in four days, freeze it. Otherwise, it's got to go down the drain.

Homemade Salad Dressings & Sauces

We like to make our own salad dressings and sauces whenever possible. It allows us to use the best ingredients and also control the amount of salt and sugar added. That being said, homemade salad dressings and sauces don't have preservatives like commercially made ones, which means they will spoil more quickly. In fact, they should be eaten within a week or two. Anything beyond that risks unwanted bacterial growth.

Leftovers & Takeout Cartons

Saving leftovers is a great way to curb your food waste. They also make a great, no-brainer lunch the next day. However, if you forget to eat those leftovers within three to four days, they need to be thrown out. Consuming your leftovers past that time frame means there's a good chance harmful bacteria have started to grow, increasing your chances of getting food poisoning. Some bacteria won't even cause your food to look, taste or smell different, so a sniff and taste test is not helpful. Unless you're able to consume those leftovers within three to four days, toss them (or freeze them).

Foods You've Double-Dipped or Sipped

Do you ever drink milk straight out of the carton or eat forkfuls of macaroni salad right out of the container? Don't be embarrassed, because we do it too. However, this does mean that those items are likely to spoil more quickly than their best-by dates. No matter how strict we are with our hygiene, our noses and mouths carry a lot of germs and bacteria, which transfer to the foods we eat. For foods that you've double-dipped or sipped, follow the leftovers rule, consume them within three to four days.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a great way to keep your fridge smelling fresh (it's especially essential for those of us who always keep a jar of kimchi on hand). But, if you're like us, that box of baking soda has probably been in there for months, making it ineffective. The folks at Arm & Hammer recommend replacing your fridge box of baking soda every 30 days. We trust their expertise.

Bottom Line

Refrigerators prolong the life of our food significantly, but not indefinitely. To prevent any unwanted bouts of food poisoning, we recommend going through the contents of your fridge regularly and throwing out anything that's questionable or past its prime. While you're cleaning, why not start a Clean-Out-the-Fridge Vegetable Soup with the salvageable items—and don't forget to update your shopping list to restock your favorites.