When has good stock gone bad?
January 6, 2009 9:44 AM   Subscribe

How do I tell whether beef or chicken stock/broth, that has been refrigerated, has gone yucky?

I usually just give it no more than a week, like the box says (say, if I've opened a carton of broth but only used half of it), but is there a way to tell if it's gone bad, if it still looks/smells ok? (and what would not looking ok be, anyway, absent, say, mold?)
posted by leahwrenn to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
does is smell yucky? are you going to simmer it for a long time and thus kill anything yucky that might be growing?
posted by fancyoats at 9:53 AM on January 6, 2009

sorry does IT smell yucky?
posted by fancyoats at 9:54 AM on January 6, 2009

Cloudiness. Typically prepared stocks and broths are quite clear (unlike their homemade counterparts). Cloudiness would indicate bacterial growth.
posted by amelioration at 10:10 AM on January 6, 2009

Stock tends to keep pretty well, long past expiration, as long as your container is closed tightly. What typically "goes bad" is that the fat content eventually turns rancid, and it's pretty clear when that happens- stock should have a subtle flavor, so if it's got a strong one it's bad.
posted by mkultra at 10:31 AM on January 6, 2009

It will smell bad, and probably smell worse once heated. And no amount of simmering or boiling will kill what is growing in it. If you taste it, it will have a vaguely moldy taste that is hard to describe. Think of the way mold or mildew smells, and imagine that as a taste. Something with too much white pepper is the closest I can come to describing it.

Whether or not it was cloudy would have a lot to do with how it was prepared, but I would also agree with amelioration that if it looked cloudy I would be highly suspicious, especially if it stayed cloudy when reheated.
posted by ralan at 10:38 AM on January 6, 2009

If it smells good it is good. If it smells good until you heat it, and then it smells bad, it is bad. You can trust your nose on this one, under ordinary home fridge circumstances.
posted by Listener at 10:39 AM on January 6, 2009

If the container was not expired when you opened it, you've had it refrigerated since opening it AND it has been less than a week or two you should be fine. Processed stock tends to keep a bit longer than homemade stock for some reason (I am going to guess it is either due to pasteurization or preservatives). If for any reason it looks funny, tastes funny and /or smells funny then you need to go ahead and pour it down the drain.
posted by lrkuperman at 10:45 AM on January 6, 2009

I will generally eat anything, but having experienced just-off stock a couple of times, I no longer mess around with chicken or beef broth. You can't always tell just from the smell and sometimes, if it's on the edge of going bad, the smell won't come out until you are simmering it.

It didn't make me sick or anything but it surely has ruined some otherwise delicious meals and I decided it just wasn't worth worrying about anymore. I believe the time I had to start from scratch and recreate an entire soup - a roasted vegetable soup that took like four hours - is when I came up with my current system. I use a lot of canned stock and I often have half cartons in the fridge; I write the date on them with sharpie and if it's over a week to ten days, I toss it. Wasteful and wrong? Probably. Less wasteful and wrong than throwing out an entire crockpot full of stew? Nope.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:48 AM on January 6, 2009

Wait. Yes. I mean, yes, it is WAY less wasteful than tossing all the stew. Sorry. Caffeine underdose this morning.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:49 AM on January 6, 2009

Somewhat random, but apropos:

One thing I didn't know till an organic chemist told me: merely boiling stuff that's gone bad (to kill the cooties) will not make it healthful. Many microbes that spoil food excrete toxins, and those toxins can't be purged by heating.

Another issue: someone mentioned rancidity. Most of us are so used to rancidity that we don't perceive it as an "off" aroma. It's good to take time to really learn what rancidity smells like (similarly, many of us are accustomed to skunky-tasting beer, because beer bottled in green and clear glass and exposed to light almost always has this off-flavor...which is caused by interaction of light and an enzyme in the hops)
posted by jimmyjimjim at 10:52 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Many homemade stock recipes suggest making a huge batch and freezing it. This isn't a direct answer to your question, but maybe you could freeze your half-used prepared stock so it would keep until you needed it?
posted by pocams at 11:06 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Well---I realized I wasn't clear in my question (or got myself distracted). (1) I often have half-boxes of packaged stock, and I try to write the date I open them with a sharpie, but sometimes I (or my husband) forget. So it sounds like look and smell will go pretty far, plus how long it's been in the fridge.

(2) What about homemade stock? What instigated the question was actually a batch of beef broth I made...and we meant to freeze it over the weekend (i think we finished making it Friday, maybe), but, well, stuff got in the way. So here it is Tuesday...and it looks and smells (and tastes) ok, but is it really? (yeah, that's rhetorical; I know a bunch of folks on the internet can't tell me if the broth that's now in my freezer is ok)

Thanks for all the responses.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:33 AM on January 6, 2009

Oh, as long as it was refrigerated well within the danger zone timeframe and it's been kept in a properly temped fridge, I would say it's fine. So, did you cool it rapidly down to or below 39 degrees F within an hour and then did you keep it below 39 degrees F? If so, freeze it and use it with a good conscience!
posted by cooker girl at 11:48 AM on January 6, 2009

Stock gets boiled when it is cooked, so it has fewer bacteria present to start. The fat covering may help a bit more. However, stock is a perfect medium for growing bacteria. If it smells good, and is under 1 week old, I'd use it.
posted by theora55 at 1:07 PM on January 6, 2009

You made it Friday? Feh, in our kitchen, no one would think twice about using it.
posted by mkultra at 1:19 PM on January 6, 2009

@ question 2, homemade stock, made before the weekend, refrigerated in the meantime, how is it on Tuesday...
Definitely fine, or I wouldn't be writing this. Unless, of course, your container was secretly contaminated with something that wants to grow fast.
I'd boil it again for a short while before freezing, but that's me being superstitious.
posted by Namlit at 1:22 PM on January 6, 2009

It starts to smell lke old socks.
I have relatives who work in microbiology, and I used to visit the labs, so I can tel you that's exactly what a bacterial culture (made with industrial broth) smells like.
posted by bad grammar at 6:58 PM on January 6, 2009

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