Food Safety with Household Staples

Posted: November 4, 2013

Ever wonder whether food that’s been in your cupboard is still safe to eat. It is important to notice signs that your food may not be safe to eat. Groups of people that are more likely to become sick from foods that were not cooked or prepared properly include infants, children, the elderly, pregnant women and people who are undernourished, physically disabled or have weakened immune systems.

First off, how do food items become unsafe to eat? Foods can become unsafe in three ways, by biological, chemical or physical hazards. Biological hazards include bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that may not be seen on your food. Chemical hazards include a food item coming in contact with a cleaning product, sanitizer, pest control poison or some other chemical that may be toxic. Lastly, physical hazards are items that do not belong in food, such as dirt and rust, metal shavings, glass fragments, and animal droppings. These hazards can affect many types of packaging, such as cans, glass bottles or jars, cardboard boxes or bags.

Canned goods are great items because they store easily and usually have a long shelf-life. However, it is best to discard a can if you see any of these flaws:

  1. It is too crushed to stack on a shelf
  2. There are dents where the seams meet
  3. There is rust or soil that does not wipe off
  4. There are holes or punctures, or there are signs of leakage
  5. Most importantly, do not consume it if there are signs of spoilage, such as strange odor or appearance or the can is bulging or swollen on its ends

There are also signs that a glass bottle or jar may not be safe to consume. Discard the object if:

  1. The lid is loose, raised or crooked
  2. It has a damaged seal
  3. There are cracks or chips
  4. There is dirt under the rim
  5. The product looks the wrong color or cloudy from spoilage
  6. It was received from a pantry and was home canned

When checking bagged items or cardboard boxes it is crucial to look for:

  1. Open tops or bottoms
  2. Insects or bugs
  3. Torn, leaking or contaminated inner bags
  4. Mold or water marks

There are also a few rules that apply to all types of foods. Discard an item if:

  1. It is missing a label
  2. The label cannot be read
  3. There are signs of insect or rodent contamination


In regards to baby food or formula, throw it out if it is passed the expiration date. As an overall rule, when in doubt, throw it out! Your health is worth more than one food item, so always take care to check that your food is safe before you eat it.

Connecticut Food Bank. Food Safety Training for Pantries. Retrieved from The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Publications. (2011). Food Safety for Food-Pantry Donations. Retrieved from

Excerpt from "Healthy Eating on a Budget" Penn State Extension