It’s common knowledge that heat can be used to kill bacteria and prevent them from spreading, but is it safe to eat spoiled food after cooking it?
No, it’s not safe to eat spoiled food if you cook it. The heat from cooking will kill most of the bacteria in spoiled food, but not all. Many of the harmful bacteria and toxic spores they leave in your food will not be affected by the heat from cooking food, which can result in illness if eaten.
After extensively researching survival training and food storage preparation, I have gathered enough information to determine the best ways to observe food safety protocols during an emergency. In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at whether it’s safe to eat spoiled food after cooking and what you can do to reduce the risks of food contamination.
Is It Safe To Eat Spoiled Food If You Cook It?
A traditional way to kill bacteria and help preserve food has been to use heat. Cooking food kills a lot of the bacteria in our foods, and is a great way to observe health and safety protocols.
That said, cooking will only do so much to save your food once it has legitimately gone bad. Many of the bacteria that cause our food to spoil leave behind toxins and spores that are very challenging to sterilize.
While cooking your food will help eliminate many of the bacteria in spoiled food, you should still avoid eating to be on the safe side. Naturally, this depends on how badly the food has spoiled as well as the type of product.
What Happens If You Eat Spoiled Food
If the food you are eating has just gone off slightly, then you may be able to eat it without experiencing any negative side effects. On the other hand, if the product is actually rancid, you can have a very serious reaction to eating it.
You may end up getting food poisoning if you eat spoiled food, which is very common and happens to people all the time. Some of the most common symptoms of food poisoning include:
- Stomach Aches
If the food has been contaminated with a serious food-borne illness, the spoiled product can have a much more devastating effect on your health and well-being.
In extreme cases, hospitalization may be required, especially if no medicine is available. Although very rare, eating spoiled food can also be fatal.
What You Should Do If You Eat Spoiled
The tricky thing about spoiled food is that it’s not always obvious when it's gone bad. Not all contaminated food products are going to be noticeably rancid and the telltale signs we often look for may be more obscure.
This results in many people accidentally eating spoiled food, even if it's after they’ve cooked it. After eating the food, you may begin experiencing symptoms of food poisoning. In most cases, you should be able to treat yourself at home, provided the food poisoning is not severe. If you have any doubts, see a doctor immediately to receive proper care.
That said, you should be able to cope with food poisoning symptoms by trying the following:
- Drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated
- Give your stomach time to settle
- Wait until you are legitimately hungry to eat (do not force food)
- Avoid products such as alcohol, caffeine, dairy, nicotine, and fatty foods.
- Get plenty of rest
In addition, probiotics, as well as antibiotics and antiparasitics may be necessary to treat certain food poisoning cases. As always, if you are in distress and are experiencing severe food poisoning, seek medical attention immediately.
Is It Okay To Eat Spoiled Food In An Emergency?
Emergency situations and disaster scenarios present challenges that may involve desperately seeking food. If you are in a legitimate emergency and have no access to safe food, eating spoiled food may be better than nothing (within reason).
You need to consider the severity of the emergency and how desperate you actually are to determine if eating spoiled food is essential for your survival. I would not recommend eating spoiled food that has become rancid and noticeably contaminated.
The reaction that you may have from eating the spoiled food could present an even more troublesome disaster situation, as it could have damaging effects on your health and inhibit your decision-making.
On the other hand, if the food has just started to go bad and does not have too many signs of contamination, eating it could make the difference between life and death. You will have to use your gut instincts to determine if spoiled food is worth consuming during an emergency.
I highly recommend cooking any food that has potentially gone bad before you consume it. While cooking is not a guaranteed method to kill bacteria and eliminate toxins, it will lower your chances of getting sick.
Is All Spoiled Food Dangerous To Eat?
No. Some of the most delicious food items get their flavor from fermentation, which is essentially letting food “spoil” by allowing good bacteria to spread through the product.
This is a traditional and widely used method to enhance food and even extend its shelf-life, but it does not apply to all foods. These are some of the most common fermented food products:
- Sour Cream
In addition, just because food has gone bad, it does not necessarily mean that it’s unsafe to eat. The bacteria that cause harm to us are generally pathogenic bacteria. Most of the bacteria in our foods that cause spoilage will not actually harm you.
How To Kill Bacteria In Spoiled Food
One of the most reliable ways to prevent foodborne illness is to use heat to kill bacteria. Cooking is a traditional method to ensure food safety, and it’s still the most effective way to prevent food poisoning.
Heating up your food to a temperature of 212 F will kill most of the bacteria inside, even if it's spoiled. Experts advise heating and reheating food multiple times if you think that it may be contaminated, as this will help eliminate more bacteria.
However, once food has become rancid, cooking may only do so much good to kill all bacteria. Not all bacteria can be eliminated by heat, especially if the food item has been exposed to contamination for an extended period of time.
What Bacteria Are Not Killed by Cooking
As microbes spread throughout your food, they leave behind spores and toxins. While the heat from cooking may get rid of most of the bacteria, the harmful spores and toxins will be unaffected.
For this reason, you should avoid taking chances when consuming old food. You never know if there are any heat-resistant bacteria left that can impact your health and well-being.
How To Prevent Food From Spoiling
If the food you want to eat has already gone bad, cooking your food is a great way to mitigate the chances of getting sick. However, the best way to avoid eating spoiled food is to prevent bacteria from spreading in the first place.
By properly observing food safety standards, you can greatly reduce your chances of eating rancid products. This will ensure that your food is safe to eat and that it tastes fresh and delicious. Consider the following methods to prevent food from spoiling and bacteria from spreading.
Your home’s refrigerator is one of the best ways to preserve food. Bacteria spread much faster at room temperature, which is why keeping goods in the fridge at temperatures between 40F and 60F is a great way to avoid spoilage.
Raw meat is notorious for going bad quickly and you can greatly reduce the number of toxins produced by keeping it refrigerated.
The most reliable way to prevent the spread of bacteria is to freeze your food. Bacteria will not be able to multiply at below-freezing temperatures, especially anything below 0F.
Not only does freezing prevent bacteria from spreading, but it can also be used as a method to kill certain bacteria. Freezing is particularly useful for fresh meat such as ground beef, pork, and raw chicken.
Keep Food Temperature Above 140F
If you are leaving food items out after cooking them, you can prevent spoilage by keeping the temperature of hot foods at 140F or higher.
Anything above 140F will pretty much eliminate the spread of bacteria in your food. You should only use this method as a temporary solution for food storage and not as a way to safely cook spoiled meat.
Store Food in Airtight Containers
One of the main reasons why food items go bad is that they were exposed to air or moisture. This kind of contamination will result in bacteria quickly spreading in your food and the product going off much faster.
You can reduce the rate at which bacteria spreads by keeping foods properly stored in airtight containers.
How To Tell If Food Has Spoiled
Eating spoiled comes with a considerable amount of risk. While most people who eat food that has gone off do not experience food poisoning or foodborne illness, doing so should be avoided unless you have absolutely no choice.
However, it’s not always easy to determine if food has actually gone bad. It’s important to inspect foods carefully before eating them and to watch out for certain signs of spoilage so that you know whether the product needs to be tossed. Make sure to look for the following signs when inspecting food items for spoilage:
- Bad smell
- Bad taste
- Changes in texture or appearance
- Rising air bubbles
- Dried out contents
- Mold growth
About THE AUTHOR
I have over a decade of experience in food and beverage management, including a ServSafe food safety qualification. As part of this qualification, I have been professionally trained in safe food storage.Read More About Mark Walker