Can You Tell if Your Food Is off by Smelling It?

Can You Tell if Your Food Is off by Smelling It?

Allow me to paint a picture for you. You’ve just made yourself a delicious cup of coffee. It’s fresh, and you’re desperate for a sip. The only thing you need is a dash of milk to finish off your morning brew. You open the fridge, grab the milk and see the best before date was two days ago.

What do you do? Do you toss it out and forgo the milk in your coffee? Or do you give it a sniff and roll the dice?

As it turns out, many of you are willing to risk it for the theoretical biscuit by going for the ‘sniff test’ when it comes to assessing food edibility.

How many of us are smelling for off food?

Mitsubishi Electric Australia ran a customer survey on food habits in the lead up to National Clean Out Your Fridge Day (yes, it’s a day) on Sunday 15th November. In said study, they found that one in four people choose their noses as their measure of whether or not a food item has gone bad.

Before you scrunch up your noses, know that the majority of people (60 per cent) said they use the standard check of a use-by date. So, I guess that’s promising. This was followed by smelling for funky stenches at 24 per cent. Checking for mould came in at five per cent and going in for a nibble (interesting choice) landed at two per cent.

Food fresh
Mitsubishi Electric: Image Supplied

In the name of hygiene, and because Food Safety Week starts on November 14th (lots of events happening, I know) I thought I get the down-low on what actually works, here.

I reached out to the team at the Food Safety Information Council, and a representative told me straight:

“You can’t tell if a food will give you food poisoning by smelling it. Food can smell or taste fine yet still give you food poisoning.”

In a nutshell, the Food Safety Information Council recommends living by the use-by date. Their views on best before dates are a little more flexible.

The Food Safety website shares that “you must use (or freeze) a food by its ‘use by’ date or it could be a food safety risk”. When working with a best before date, however, the food item “will still be ok to eat after that date but it might have lost some nutrition or quality”.

Long story, short: sniffing products – particularly packaged foods – is probably not the best technique to employ. If you have a use-by date, stick to that bad boy. In every other case – just go with your, well… gut (and the advice of experts). And if it doesn’t seem right to you, don’t eat it.

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