Special Report

20 Foods That Spoil Faster Than You'd Think

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Olive oil

If it’s stored in a cool, dark place (like a cupboard away from the stove), olive oil — whether extra-virgin or otherwise — will generally last for two to three years. However, it is most flavorful within a year of pressing, and there’s often no production date on the bottle or can, so it’s hard to tell how old it is when it’s purchased. Make sure that olive oil is not only stored properly but tightly sealed, as it can turn rancid, developing what is sometimes described as a “winey” smell. Flavored olive oils may spoil more quickly, and are best stored in the refrigerator.

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Raw chicken

Raw chicken is notorious for being contaminated frequently with Campylobacter, Salmonella, or other bacteria. For that reason, it should always be cooked or frozen within a couple of days of purchase. (Frozen, it can last up to a year.) If it has a slimy surface or smells sour or just plain stinky, it should be tossed. Even unspoiled chicken should be handled very carefully. According to the CDC, make sure leaking juices from the package don’t touch other food; wash hands in warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling raw chicken; use a separate cutting board for it; don’t wash it (or bacteria will contaminate the sink and other parts of the kitchen); cook it to an internal temperature of at least 165º; and refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours.

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Raw seafood

The healthy fats and oils that make many kinds of fish and shellfish so good for us also begin to turn uncooked examples rancid within a couple of days. In addition, fish often contain bacteria of kinds that have adapted to colder temperatures — so-called SSOs, or specific spoilage organisms — so refrigeration doesn’t help as much as it does with other foods. These organisms are also what produce the strong, unpleasant “fishy” odor some seafood develops. Fortunately, most types of seafood freeze well, so if it isn’t to be eaten immediately, seal it in plastic bags and stick it in the freezer. Alternately, its refrigerated life can be extended for a few days by storing it in a container filled with ice, pouring off the melted water and replenishing the ice daily.

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Sliced turkey

Most deli meats are processed with nitrates, nitrites, and other preservatives, and will last for a week or ten days if refrigerated. Unprocessed meats, especially store-roasted sliced turkey, should be consumed within four or five days, even if well wrapped. If the surface of the meat begins to grow slimy and the turkey has a pronounced odor, it should go into the trash. So you don’t have to throw out even more food, know which products to keep in the fridge and which at room temperature.

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