Should I eat it...on overdrive
January 14, 2011 12:14 PM   Subscribe

I would like to know if other people commonly feel that food they have bought needs to be thrown out because it is somehow contaminated, or whether I'm actually too hyper about this. Often -- more than once a week -- I throw out food because something seems to be wrong with it. Here are my recent examples

1. Last night, I cooked a pot of rice. it was a good brand (Texmati, from the pretty expensive plastic jar.) When the rice was done, a fat, brown, soft blob, about 1/4 inch, was on top of the rice. I thought it must be rodent dung that had gotten into the rice at the factory and I threw out the whole pot of rice. My husband was irritated that I didn't just scoop out the brown thing and keep the rice.
2. Bought a pre-washed plastic container of salad greens. On one leaf was the most disgusting viscous yellow slime -- not normal boxed-lettuce slime, but as if someone had sneezed. I threw the whole box out.
3. Two days ago, got a single-serve bottle of organic juice from the deli while at work. I put a tiny bit of pressure on the twist off lid, but before I heard the seal crack, juice leaked out onto my hand. I felt it had been previously opened and threw out the bottle.

This kind of thing happens all the time. A related issue is that when I'm at other people's houses, I see them cook in a way that makes the food seem risky for food poisoning. For example, recently our family accompanied a friend to her sister's house for dinner. So I didn't know the hosts well. They put the cooked hamburgers back on the same plate where they had kept the raw meet -- just left that plate by the grill and then re-loaded it. They are from another country, but have lived here for decades. I had to decide whether or not to let my kids eat these hamburgers. Luckily my kids decided they wanted hot dogs, but this kind of thing always seems to happen -- that food doesn't seem right for some reason and I want to reject it.

Am I in the vast minority on this stuff? I'd like to know whether I am over-reacting in general. This is anonymous because my husband gets annoyed with me for this trait, and I don't really want this internet discussion to become part of our discussion.
posted by anonymous to Food & Drink (68 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
1. Wash and inspect rice before you cook it. Just rinse it a couple times. Rice is pretty dirty. I'd throw out the pot too probably.
2. Naw, I'd just pick out the good pieces of salad and wash them before eating.
3. Hard to say, I'd probably just drink it.
4. That's dangerous to do to burgers.
posted by captaincrouton at 12:21 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would be grossed out by everything you mentioned.

Raw hamburger juice...urgh. That's really gross.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:21 PM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you're a little over the top on this. It's hard to say without seeing the food but in your first and second examples I would have just thrown away the offending bits and the stuff that was touching them and then eaten the rest. In your third and hamburger examples no way would I have consumed that stuff. The hamburgers especially - that's dangerous. And I'm usually with the risk takers saying "eat it, eat it" in this kind of thread.
posted by hazyjane at 12:22 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you are overreacting. Putting cooked meat on a plate used for raw meat is a no-no, but the other things seem possibly like overreaction.

I'm like your husband: I would have scooped the blob out.
posted by bolognius maximus at 12:24 PM on January 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

The hamburger thing would bug me too, the rice and salad things are iffy in my book (without seeing what you saw I can't judge), and the juice thing sounds slightly over dramatic to me.

In my opinion I think you're slightly over reacting in general. This kind of thing only happens to me once every few months and I thought I was sensitive.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:24 PM on January 14, 2011

It sounds to me like you're definitely on the more cautious end of the spectrum. Not pathologically food-contamination-afeared, but certainly very risk-averse.

If you're just looking for data points, recently my partner finally removed the dead moth from the jar of rice on the counter, and I was like "oh, sweet, I've been meaning to take that moth out for weeks!" If there is something suspect in/on a food item and it can be easily removed, I do that and forget all about it.

It does seem like you jump to the more gross conclusions pretty quickly. (Rodent dung?! Sneeze-goo??) I probably would have gone with "huh, weird vegetable matter" and ... "weird vegetable matter, huh."
posted by little cow make small moo at 12:25 PM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

We like to pretend our food is virgin clean, but it's not. I hesitate to suggest you should visit an operating farm but it might give you some perspective. I would have washed well and then eaten every example in your story.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:25 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are unusually sensitive to this. Your list isn't all that irrational, because one can always make the case that food might have been improperly handled or might have been contaminated. But your risk tolerance is very low, and in some cases your imagination seems to be leading you to take more action than deeded.

FWIW, here's how I would react to the above:

1. That's weird. But it doesn't have to be rodent dung; it could be chaff, or something that dropped into your rice while it was on the stove uncovered. I would have dipped it out, examined the rice carefully, maybe rinsed it, and if the rest looked fine, then returned it to the boil for several minutes and served it.

2. I would pull out the one leaf, rinse the others in a colander and then spin them in the salad container, and eat the letttuce. This happens to lettuce routinely in salad mixes, because not all the leaves are the same age. The slime results from rotting, but it's not going to do anything to harm the other leaves. I've also worked in more than one upscale restaurant where one of the standard kitchen tasks was to sort through the 5-lb lettuce bags to find these bad leaves and discard them, then wash and serve the rest. No biggie.

3. I wouldn't even notice.

4. Burger scenario - I would definitely notice this. However, I almost always eating industrial beef anyway, so I wouldn't opt for the burger. Even had they put it on a new, clean plate, I don't believe any industrially processed beef is safe, so I'd just skip the burgers. It's not always possible to do this politely when you are a guest, so if it were awkward for some reason, and they hadn't asked beforehand if I was a vegetarian or something (standard excuse for avoiding this meat), I would probably just do the mental math revealing that the odds are that this one burger wouldn't be swarming with e. coli and just eat it, or part of it.
posted by Miko at 12:25 PM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I 100% totally agree with hazyjane.

You sound a little bit obsessive about throwing out food if it's not perfect.
posted by royalsong at 12:25 PM on January 14, 2011

My parents totally cook hamburgers that way and would find it very strange for someone to question it. They also cook stuffing inside the turkey, let frozen meat defrost by leaving it on the kitchen counter for 8+ hours, etc. They have been totally shocked when I've questioned things like this because this is how they've always cooked and they've never had any issues.

Anyway, after growing up in an environment like that, I think 4 is the only situation I would question, but I'd probably go ahead and consume the items mentioned in 1-3.
posted by shesbookish at 12:27 PM on January 14, 2011

Those are all reasonable examples of things that would make food worthy of not being eaten. The people who would want to eat 90% of that pot of rice probably don't actually believe it had been cooked with a piece of mouse poop; your ability to speculate worst-case scenarios creates a mental image of very gross food, with a definite possibility of being reality. But whether the worst case scenario is true or not, being grossed out by the idea of putting a piece of food in your mouth isn't something that you can logic your way past. If you don't want to eat it, then don't.
posted by aimedwander at 12:27 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

RE: the greens: I can guarantee you that any restaurant you've ever ordered a salad in is not being this squeamish.

Even if a few pieces are completely rotten, you'd be unlikely to get sick from eating them - rinsing here would have saved you some money.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:29 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm totally with you on the hamburgers; I'd assume that the drink was improperly sealed, not tampered with, but probably have thrown it away; the other two are a bit extreme.

Does it bother your husband that you do this at all, that you do this for other people (ie, it's ok for you to refuse to eat the lettuce, but not that you won't let anyone else eat the perfectly fine lettuce), or that you then go on and on about whether certain foods are safe? (I ask because my sister is like you are, except far more extreme -- she's some sort of super taster, though there is more to it -- and she just won't shut up about things like hair in food or mold on cheese etc.)
posted by jeather at 12:30 PM on January 14, 2011

I usually think the people who come in with their "Am I OCD" are pretty OCD--but you, not so much. I would not have thrown out the box of salad, but sometimes reclaiming the edible leaves from the inedible is just a waste of time--and obviously, you're not going to eat the wilted ones.

The orange juice--absolutely, I would throw that out right away.

The burgers? Fuck yeah, that's nasty.

The rice--close call--if it really looks like rat shit, throw out that rice. You cannot eat food that has rat shit in it; that's the rule (though I don't sweat the fact that surely 99% of our prepared foods have rat shit in it). If it's just staring you in the face ("Hello! I am a turdlington!"), chuck it.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:30 PM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Your own insides are already just about as dirty as anything you'll find outside. You can't control every aspect of how a meal is prepared, especially when you're at other's houses. Whether you think your fear is valid in any of these cases, you need to stop and examine whether it's becoming impossible for your family and friends to relax and enjoy a meal with you.
posted by hermitosis at 12:31 PM on January 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

My feelings on this pretty closely mirror Miko's. This is all about risk tolerance since there's no way to be totally sure that any food is safe. The issues seems to be that your level of risk tolerance is quite low and your husband's is not and this is problematic enough that you're arguing about it. Often when this happens there's some sort of appeal to some sort of authority as the tie-breaker in a disagreement between two people.

My sister has a tendency to think of food that is slightly off [in whatever way] and "poison" and not only won't she eat it, she often can't even touch it to get it out of her refrigerator. This is a problem because it results in a lot of waste and throwing out of expensive food containers if the foot in them has gotten slightly compromised. You seem to be throwing out a lot of food because your imagination has gone into a "worst case scenario" place with food concerns as opposed to liklely concerns.

As an example, did the orange juice still have a seal that cracked? And did you decide that even though you heard that you were going to presume the very unlikely scenario that someone had already opened your juice? That's stratching pretty far, in my opinion. If you're getting into situations where you're actively trying to ignore other data in order to toss out food or find a reason to not eat it and it's affecting yourlife or others', that's a problem and could be a sign of a high level of anxiety or OCD-like tendencies. Only you know if this is interfering with your normal life.
posted by jessamyn at 12:31 PM on January 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

I am with captaincrouton for my possible reactions to 1-4.

Could it be the way you react, rather than the fact that you throw the food out, that peeves your husband? Do you throw it out in a dramatic way? Do you yelp? Perhaps you could try to both wash the food before cooking/eating and keep it calm when you throw anything out.

Cooked burgers on raw meat juice? Ugh, no.
posted by copperbleu at 12:33 PM on January 14, 2011

How often do people you know personally - who aren't as cautious as you are - end up with something like food poisoning? Not very often, right?

As with others above, I agree on the burgers. But if this is happening to you multiple times a week you might want to look into why you think your food is so contaminated and where these fears come from.
posted by ldthomps at 12:33 PM on January 14, 2011

I don't think you should feel bad at all about avoiding food poisoning. I know a lot of people don't think twice about eating something suspicious, and maybe that's all good, maybe those folks are more resistant. On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with a risk assessment of waste vs. serious illness, doctor bills, and lost work. That's your choice; you control what you put in your body.

Granted, there's not a whole lot that will end up making you sick, but if you can't figure out what some strange substance is, forego it. I doubt there's anyone who regrets being safe than sorry, and you shouldn't put stuff in your body if other people think it's okay but you aren't convinced; that's just social pressure. You can have a game plan for opting out tactfully (gosh, I suddenly feel sick, etc). You can always start a compost bin for stuff at home, and continue to educate yourself about cooking so you can get better and better at figuring out what things should look like and how they should be handled.

FWIW, I eat all my burgers medium rare to medium, but darn tootin right I would not touch a burger that went back on a raw burger plate. Just... ew!! Maybe from a good butcher, but not from Wal Mart ground beef.
posted by crapmatic at 12:36 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've often thought that everyone should be required to take a food handling course and get a food safety certification in high school. It should just be one of those basic life skills, like learning how to swim, or taking a CPR course.

Your examples run the spectrum from "perfectly reasonable" to "borderline." My question is, if your husband were to comment on this thread, would there be other incidents he'd tell us about, that maybe you have left out? If you know you overreact, then hey, you overreact. Everyone has a thing. It's not the end of the world.

However, that final example, with the meat? That's what I'm talking about with regards to basic food safety. That is a clear-cut example of high risk food behavior, and 100% a Bad Thing To Do.

It's called cross-contamination, and it can make people very sick. It practically negates having cooked the burgers in the first place. And burgers are a very high-risk form of beef (compared to steak or other whole meats).

Just because other people are fine with it, or maybe it's normal to do this, and hey they do it all the time and don't get sick - that doesn't mean it's not risky. If someone did that in a restaurant kitchen in front of a health inspector, the restaurant would be shut down IMMEDIATELY.
posted by ErikaB at 12:39 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm agreeing with the general trend here -- that you strike me as being on the "more cautious" end of the spectrum, but are not quite yet all the way into "whoa Joan Crawford alert" territory. I'd have chucked the whole thing of rice too, and as for the lettuce I'd have just picked out the blechy leaf and a couple of surrounding ones and kept the rest.

The red flag for me is where you say you seem overly-aware of this when you go to people's houses. I honestly don't pay too much attention to the cooking methods my hosts use when I'm a dinner guest, unless they do something really obviously blatantly wrong (i.e., they sneeze in the soup while they're in the act of serving it or something). I just get the impression that you're lingering in the kitchen to monitor their cooking methods; that in itself can put people off, and as for you, it may just be feeding a sensitive spot for you. But if I'm wrong about that, and you're talking about just once in a blue moon accidentally seeing "oooh, they made a joke about the five-second rule", then never mind.

TL;DR: your food sanitation quirks are quirky, but normal. But just try to avoid seeing too much of how other people cook, because the habits you see are probably not as drastically unsanitary as your concerns would warrant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:41 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Am I in the vast minority on this stuff? I'd like to know whether I am over-reacting in general. This is anonymous because my husband gets annoyed with me for this trait, and I don't really want this internet discussion to become part of our discussion.

I think that you're probably in a very slight minority, not a vast one, and that most people would just remove the offending item (the rice dung, the lettuce mucus) rather than ditching the whole thing. I myself would be super-annoyed by all four of your examples, but then, I eat sketchy-looking stuff and raw beef sort of often, so I may be more of an outlier than you are.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:41 PM on January 14, 2011

There is nothing that you threw away that I wouldn't have eaten. I'd have eaten the burgers too, although that's not how I would have done them myself.

Of course, and I realize I'm not statistically relevant, I grew up in a house where my parents never put anything in the fridge after a meal and would often (my mom still does) go back to pick at it for hours and hours and hours later, sometimes even in the morning. I used to eat raw hamburger as a child alllllll the time, and I also occasionally enjoy chewing the marrow out of chicken bones from fried chicken. I also order my steaks rare and leave a little pink in my pork when I cook it.

From where I'm sitting, definitely over the top. Of course where you're sitting, you're probably surprised I'm not underground.

Do you use hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps often? There's some recent evidence showing it may actually be dangerous to be overly clean.
posted by TomMelee at 12:43 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe your husband gets annoyed with this because, although to me and most everyone else here, you are well within your rights to not eat something that is grossing you out, HE doesn't find it gross and is annoyed that you just threw out his supper. It's one thing to not want to eat it yourself, but if you can recognize that not all people are as sensitive to this stuff as you are and let them decide for themselves, you might be able to navigate it better.
posted by coupdefoudre at 12:51 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I think what makes your examples seem extreme is the fact the you see one thing wrong, assume the worst, and then assume that entire batch is contaminated. This can be pretty wasteful, but in the end, it's your choice and your money. If you want to address this issue, maybe first think of ways to "fix" whatever contaminate the food had (like washing or boiling) as opposed to tossing everything.

FWIW, in those scenarios, how I would've reacted:
1. I would have scooped out a large-ish area around brown stuff, and assumed that the boiling got rid of whatever remnants might have touched other parts of rice in that pot.
2. The leaf should be thrown away, and you could be extra thorough in washing the rest of the bag.
3. I would've assumed it was improperly sealed and thrown it away. (In reality, I wouldn't have noticed, but I think you did right here. Improper sealing seems a bit iffy.)
4. Ew, yeah, raw hamburger juice. I wouldn't have eaten that.
posted by lacedcoffee at 12:51 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Humans are relatively hardy as a species. We've been eating much crazier (and dirtier!) things for millions of years. If we were all really that delicate, we'd be extinct.

For most things, I just throw the contaminated part away. I wouldn't be too worried about burgers touching the same spot where raw beef was, because raw beef is perfectly safe to eat. It's cross-contamination you need to worry about, especially with chicken and pork.

That said, bagged salad is really iffy - I'll throw that stuff away at the drop of a hat.

Some of my coworkers get freaked out about rotten things at the drop of a hat, and it sort of annoys me. It especially bothered me when I was responsible for keeping the fridge stocked with milk and breakfast things, because some prima donna would be convinced that all the milk was bad for no reason and I'd have to go out and buy more.
posted by Sara C. at 12:58 PM on January 14, 2011

I'm with you on the hamburgers and the juice. I probably would have just removed the blob from the rice because it sounds like one of those blobs that happen sometimes when you cook rice. With the lettuce, I probably would have just removed that leaf, because I don't think it's too likely that someone sneezed on it. Even if someone is really congested, you don't normally see a huge chunk of something fly out from their nose and travel several feet. However if I had SEEN someone sneeze on it, like at a salad buffet or something, I definitely would have avoided the whole buffet. (Which I do anyway.)

Honestly though, this is really only a problem if it's a problem for you. Like if you get frustrated by the waste of food or of money, or always feeling these anxieties. If it's not a problem for you, but just for your husband, then I would probably just let him go ahead and eat the stuff himself, and make new stuff for me.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:01 PM on January 14, 2011

I totally agree with you on every level. If you've ever had food poisoning you would be like that too. Remember that brown rice will have the little scummy thingie, but NOT white rice.

You are prudent IMHO.

posted by ~Sushma~ at 1:01 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm sort of in-between. On the one hand:
  • I'd just have scooped the blob out of the rice.
  • I'd only have thrown out (actually, probably returned for a refund) if the seal were unambiguously broken
On the other:
  • The dirty plate at the bbq scenario has happened to me. In the interest of politeness, I ate something from the top of the pile
  • I've also abandoned a whole bag of lettuce due to one slimy leaf
Honestly, I'm not sure what's actually rational. My feeling is that you sound a little particular, but well short of genuine craziness.
posted by willpie at 1:05 PM on January 14, 2011

Thrown out the juice. The juice. Sigh.
posted by willpie at 1:06 PM on January 14, 2011

If you've ever had food poisoning you would be like that too.

No, I've endured some bad food poisoning and I'm still adventurous.

In the OP's case I would most definitely object to eating hamburger put back onto the plate they kept the raw meat. I mean, you're very probably going to be fine eating it anyway (people do eat raw beef) but there's no reason to take the risk and it may be indicative of other lax practices. Other than that I would have eaten the other stuff.

Rodent dung? Really?
posted by Justinian at 1:08 PM on January 14, 2011

Speaking as a person who has a nasty bout of vomiting traced to food poisoning about twice a year, I would throw out everything you threw out. It's just not worth it for me. Even if the yucky thing is "sterilized" so to speak (boiled rat dung?) it becomes psychological for me. My husband has occasionally eaten the same questionable food as me but only become slightly nauseated, whereas I'll have 12 hours of spew.

On the other hand, I've got a friend who throws out more food than I would, such as juice that has been open for a week. It doesn't sound like you're on that end of the spectrum.

Would you feel the same way if you were, say, camping? That's a situation where I'll pick out a bug and keep eating.
posted by Knowyournuts at 1:09 PM on January 14, 2011

I have to say, as someone who lives in a place where if you aren't battling weather you are battling rodents I've never seen rodent poop (even cooked) that looks the way you describe the blob in your rice. On the other hand I've given up buying salad mix in a box because I hate picking out the good from the bad. I'm pretty sure the process of boxing salad greens is automated so I doubt many people have the chance to sneeze into it.

You mention these things happening often. I think you may be pretty sensitive to this stuff and your imagination may be helping you sustain this sensitivity.
posted by a22lamia at 1:09 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't have eaten any of those things. (Except perhaps the salad: Vegetables grow in dirt.)

I especially wouldn't have eaten the rice, and I'm very surprised so many people don't get where you're coming from there. If it really was rat poop, ALL of that rice was boiled in poop water. That's fucking disgusting.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:12 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would have thrown the rice out and taken both the box of greens and the drink back to the store. I would not have eaten the hamburger or I would have eaten a burger that had not touched the plate. Seriously, though: a 1/4 inch brown squishy blob in the rice? Ew. A leaf that wasn't just a little decomposed, but covered in yellow snotty slime? I'm not a freak about my food and I would be a little iffy about those things, too.
posted by 200burritos at 1:14 PM on January 14, 2011

The issue here isn't the specific examples. The issue is that everyone has different comfort levels of food they eat.

I'm the opposite of you. I rarely wash vegetables. I wouldn't think twice about putting cooked burgers on a plate that held raw burgers. I routinely eat food that's been dropped on the floor. But I understand that most people care about these things, so I try to do things the right way when I'm cooking for other people.

The issue is one of risk tolerance. My perspective is that unless you know the people who grew, slaughtered, or processed your food, you have no idea what happened to that food before you bought it. So from my perspective a little extra dirt isn't going to make much difference in terms of the total dirt I put in my mouth every day. Plus, I figure it's good for my immune system. Haven't got food poisoning yet! (totally just jinxed myself...)

But I also understand your perspective -- that every precaution should always be taken to keep things clean.

My advice to you: by being careful with your own food, you've dramatically lowered the chances of getting food poisoning. Occasionally eating food prepared by someone with lower standards is going to change those chances imperceptibly compared to what your own standards are. And remember, the worst thing that's likely to ever happen to you is that you throw up for a few hours. Is that worth stressing out every meal over?
posted by auto-correct at 1:21 PM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

If it really was rat poop, ALL of that rice was boiled in poop water. That's fucking disgusting.

The reason I'd have eaten the rice is that her description doesn't sound like rat poop at all. If she said she had verified that there was a rat turd in the rice, then, yep, I would have to agree that I wouldn't eat that.
posted by Sara C. at 1:23 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I won't hammer on the four items you list, which have been well covered already, except to note that only one of them (the hamburger) involved any potential safety hazard -- the rest, potentially unappetizing, maybe; unsafe, no.

But those examples aside, if this is happening every week, you are either being way, way too fussy or you are shopping in some really dodgy grocery stores. Food is just not contaminated as often as that. (And again, it's worth separating contamination as a safety issue from contamination as a 'this is unappetizing to think about' issue.)

Honestly though, this is really only a problem if it's a problem for you.

Well, the OP will have to make her own moral judgement about this, but it's really not great for the environment to be routinely throwing away food; a lot of energy and resources went into growing, packaging, and shipping it.
posted by ook at 1:26 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would have done what you did in each instance. I have a difficult time wanting to eat things that are associated with spoilage, dirt, contamination and whatnot. My gag factor is pretty strong so if I find a hair in my food or see someone prepare food without washing their hands (esp. after using the bathroom) my appetite dies. It bugs some people and I've been described picky, but these people are the ones that defrost frozen meat on the counter, leave food containing meat and dairy out overnight to eat the next day, always have dried crud on their "clean" dishes and utensils, reheat food sans plate in the microwave (which doesn't get wiped down and resembles a murder scene), etc.

I think I've described people pretty far apart on the spectrum of food safety. With the way food is mishandled and processed, it's not unreasonable to exercise caution. I've seen too many frozen foods that shoppers ditch on random shelves being returned to the freezer by grocery employees to take chances with 'off' foods.

And yeah, I dine out all the time.
posted by loquat at 1:26 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're totally normal. But everyone has a different normal. If your husband thinks you're nuts for tossing out the rat poop pilaf, then he can cook friggin' dinner next time.

Huzzah for living in a country where you can throw away food that will either make you sick or grosses you the hell out! I've had bad food poisoning, and I'm still an adventurous eater. It's all about paring down the odds. I would've done everything you did, and if my kid wanted a hamburger at the e.coli BBQ, I would've quietly promised them In'n'Out on the ride home.
posted by turducken at 1:27 PM on January 14, 2011

Yeah, I'd be just as grossed out by all your examples. I doubt I would have thought of the first one as rodent dung(probably just unidentified grossness), but still. I don't know if you've ever had food poisoning ( or other food borne illness), but I would throw just about anything out that made me feel even vaguely threatened with another bout with that particular tiger.
posted by sweetkid at 1:32 PM on January 14, 2011

The reason I'd have eaten the rice is that her description doesn't sound like rat poop at all.

How so? "Fat, brown, soft blob, about 1/4 inch" sounds plausible enough to me for boiled rat droppings. Or some kind of droppings at any rate.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:32 PM on January 14, 2011

I don't think you overreacted in any of these scenarios. Rice is cheap. Poop, not poop, who cares? It didn't look right and it was easily replaceable. You weren't exactly going to enjoy it anyway while not knowing what the blob was that was in the rice.

The lettuce thing... I probably would have thrown the yuck away, and thoroughly washed the rest of it, but honestly I don't eat a lot of raw leaves of any sort, partially because they always seem to be at the root of big e. coli outbreaks! Spinach and sprouts, both. Ugh.

The hamburger scenario is making me gag slightly as I type this.

It's amazing what terrible habits people have with kitchen safety. I can't remember where I read it now, but it was a reputable source, that posited that food-born illness is much more common than people realize; they think they've got a "stomach flu", but they're wrong.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:40 PM on January 14, 2011

If you've ever had food poisoning you would be like that too.

Just for the record, I've had it a bunch of times. It doesn't necessarily change your basic orientation to generalized food risk. In fact, most people get food poisoning several times a year, it's just that if it's mild, which it usually is, we tend to call it 'a stomach bug' or 'the 24-hour flu' or 'just a little queasy.'
posted by Miko at 1:41 PM on January 14, 2011

[folks can we not turn this into the mouse poop question? thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:56 PM on January 14, 2011

If you've ever had food poisoning you would be like that too.

The question is whether this really helps you avoid it. Most people seem to get food poisoning from restaurants, after all.
posted by smackfu at 2:24 PM on January 14, 2011

anonymous: juice leaked out onto my hand. I felt it had been previously opened and threw out the bottle.

The seal cracked? Were you squeezing the bottle as you opened it? I would assume that there was some condensation and possible a bit of juice squeezed out the gaps made in the seal prior to it actually breaking.

The leaping to WORST POSSIBLE MOST DISGUSTING reason is probably more worrying than anything. Yellow slime sounds totally like mank lettuce. I have no idea on the rice poop continuum but I personally would assume more 'damnit clean the pans properly' over 'non-disintegrating poop'. The hamburger thing I'd be ick about BUT I know I've done something similar by accident. I'd still steer away from the ones touching the plate but it is super bad food safety but I'd also assume it was an accident rather than 'from another country'.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:30 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would have done what you did in every case. Disclosure: I do have a mild case of OCD... but I also have a weak stomach and get queasy even thinking about rice that had an unidentified brown blob, or eating lettuce from a bag that had slime in it.

I'm also super careful about food poisoning, because I hate hate hate to throw up. Last summer we traveled out of state to visit my grandma, and when we got there she offered to feed us a roasted chicken from the grocery that had been sitting on her counter for several hours. I spent the entire weekend making up excuses not to eat that damn
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:32 PM on January 14, 2011

The red flag for me is where you say you seem overly-aware of this when you go to people's houses. I honestly don't pay too much attention to the cooking methods my hosts use when I'm a dinner guest, unless they do something really obviously blatantly wrong

Oh yeah, this too. I tend not to stress out too much about restaurant food or food other people fix unless something seems blatantly wrong or off, like in the burger example. Or if the restaurant seems really dirty or something. I know there is a ton of gross stuff that can happen to food on its way to my plate, but if I worried about that I could never eat anything again that I didn't grow and process myself, and I'm far too lazy to farm.

But having a general knowledge that the FDA approves x number of invisible cockroach parts in my peanut butter is a totally different thing from actually seeing something in my food that looks like an antennae or turd or something. If it looks contaminated, I'm a little to squeamish to chow down.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:46 PM on January 14, 2011

None of your examples sounds that paranoid... but why is this stuff happening to you all the time? Every once in a great while, sure, but regularly? Either you're overreacting sometimes or you're doing something unusual that puts you at greater risk for this.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:03 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had food poisoning. No fun at all, and a genuine health risk. But I rarely worry about rice, though I tend to watch when I pour it into the pan. Rice can get a soft blob of foam during cooking. I'd throw out a slimy piece of lettuce, but not the whole container. I don't pay for organic juice. The hamburgers? Sketchy, hot dogs maybe a better call.

Here's the thing: you're over-observant about food. Worry about the server washing hands before food prep. Teach your kids to be good at hand-washing. Grow some food at home, and focus on food tasting good and being nutritious, and get more joy out of it. Lobby your legislators to make our food laws and inspection practices better, so we can get back to having great healthy food.
posted by theora55 at 3:05 PM on January 14, 2011

I am with you when it comes to wet things. Hell, I won't buy pre-packaged salad greens that are wet in any way. (*) Slimes, juices, stuff separating out that weren't separate when it was new- gone.

Now, if I saw a well formed and not obviously broken "something" in the dry rice, I would probably scoop it out along with the rice near it and eat the rest.

(*) Because wet means they either were dry and are going bad, or were kept wet to maintain the illusion of freshness. Meanwhile, the various potential contaminents in the salad have had all this time to fester. They are supposed to be dry. (On the surface.)
posted by gjc at 3:13 PM on January 14, 2011

I especially wouldn't have eaten the rice, and I'm very surprised so many people don't get where you're coming from there. If it really was rat poop, ALL of that rice was boiled in poop water. That's fucking disgusting.

Yeah, but did you know that rice is frequently *grown* in human poop water? And so is a lot of other food, around the world. If you're peeling it or cooking it, who cares?

I'd have eaten half of the examples in your list, as follows:
Rice: scoop out the weird crap and eat the rice, which was cooked at over 200 degrees
Lettuce: throw out the weird crap, rinse the rest and eat it
Juice: Exploratory sip - yum? Drink. Turned? Dump.
Burgers: I'd have probably eaten that, depending on my quick impression of the food-buying habits of the hosts. If they look like they buy decent beef, I'd eat it. If they look like they buy the $6 giganto-roll of crap beef, no.

The natural world in which food is grown is gross, but maybe not as gross as the food processing and packaging world. Cooking, rinsing and pasteurizing solve a lot of problems, but not post-(or mid-)processing contamination (juice & beef).
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:50 PM on January 14, 2011

Except for the lettuce, which I would have just washed, I'd have done the same as you probably. Well, I'm undecided on the juice. If I really thought the blob was rat poop? Out out out it goes and no second thoughts. Raw meat juice is dangerous, unless you know the meat's life story from start to finish, and it's exceedingly rare that that's the case.

The funny thing is that I'm nearly the most lax of my friends and family about food contamination and disease control, so maybe you're just in a group of people with a different base standard.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:06 PM on January 14, 2011

1. The blob was probably starch. Like everyone else said, rinse your rice.
2. Wash the lettuce. Seriously, it grows in the dirt. My lettuce from the garden is often covered in slugs. Just wash it.
3. The juice? I'd have to have been the one to open it to know what I would do.
4. The burger thing is effed. Basic food safety says don't use the same plate/cutting board/knife/ etc. for raw meat as you do for cooked meat/vegetables.

You sound a little over-cautious in some regards, but totally on track in others.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 4:21 PM on January 14, 2011

Frankly, I don't think it matters if the food was contaminated or not. The issue is that you easily begin to react to food as if it is contaminated. Sometimes your judgment call is going to be right and sometimes it's going to be wrong. To me the question is more about your husband being upset with you for have a strong and swift disgust reaction.

Are YOU thrown off balance by this kind of thing? In other words, did you look at the rice, shrug and toss it out and put quickly some noodles on to boil? Did your husband find out by being served chicken-fried-noodles or when wails erupted from the kitchen? Did you agonize and get upset and verbalize and have to calm yourself down after wards? Was dinner "ruined!"? And did HE have to try and calm you down? Are you now paranoid about eating rice?

I had a sister stay with me one year who, upon discovering that my kids always left the crust and took the first slice from partway into the bag, refused to eat any bread from out of our kitchen because her perception was that their grubby hands would have contaminated it. Okay. If it makes her happy to keep a bag of bread in the guest room, I'm cheerfully glad for her to keep a bag of bread in the guest room. For one thing she might possibly have been right. If you knew how often my kids wash their hands...

But once she was in tears desperately dusting the floor of my room for fear that there might be cat flea eggs in the room, and got so upset that she was unwittingly dusting the floor with her own sock... And when I pointed out that if her fear was of bringing cat fleas back home with her at the end of the summer she should probably use a paper towel or something else, she became incoherent with distress and was unable to process or interact with anyone for about two hours. Having someone THAT upset around is distressing for the whole household... no, maybe not. Come to think of it, my kids shrugged and disappeared onto the computer but me, I was walking around on eggshells waiting for the storm of horror and woe to abate.

So that's my point. If you want to be out-of-the-average cautious -Go for it. If you're the cook you can declare the food inedible as fast as you like. If they don't like it they can do their own cooking. And if you are not the cook but feel the least little bit of quease or unease, just politely back out. "What a beautiful pot full of fluffy white rice! Thank you so much for cooking. But you know, I don't actually want rice right now..." And if you are concerned about your kids getting food poisoning -doubly so! Just be polite. "I hear there's been a lot of cases of e-coli lately and you know, I feel much too paranoid to let my kids eat hamburger right now. I'm so awfully sorry to be fussy. We'll have those scrumptious looking hot dogs instead!" (No mention of the cross-contaminated plate.)

But if you are getting upset about this stuff and making life hard for other people, then IMCO (in my conceited opinion) it could have roots in anxiety and not be entirely about food. Do you get upset about a lot of other things? You know, like worry a lot?

If your husband is getting annoyed that you don't like manky lettuce and he thinks manky lettuce is perfectly edible, it's on par with him getting annoyed that you don't like chocolate and he thinks you should be willing to sit down each day and nibble your way through a Hershey bar with him for social time. It's the same as if you get upset because he drank a bottle of orange juice which wasn't organic. Or if you freaked out that he ate some potatoes and you know those are in the deadly nightshade family.

So who is ending up being a burden on whom here? Is he nagging you about wasting food over a $1.39 bag of greens? Is he ending up going hungry three nights a week because every time you do the cooking the dinner must be sterilized and then gets thrown out anyway? Are you fretting "Ew! Ew! Ew! Ew! It's naaasty!" at high volume? Is it just possible that you are way more sensitive to textures and/or bitterness than he is? Could he being doing the clueless thing pretending food poisoning is a myth? Why is there a discord between the two of you over this subject? Who is right and who is wrong is not the issue. I think the issue is about who is making whom unhappy, and do they know they are doing it and can they stop.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:23 PM on January 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

1. Malformed, unhappy bit of rice, flick off and eat the rest. Unless it was, like, a mouse foot, I'd tell myself it was a malformed bit of rice and go happily on my way.

2. Salad greens. Such is nature. Throw that piece out, eat the rest.

3. Organic, maybe a little creepy, I think I'd throw it out.

4. No big deal. Such is food production.

This sort of thing happens to me (where I am creeped out and I do throw it out) once a month, at most, and I'm the sensitive one in the house.

Just one opinion.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:29 PM on January 14, 2011

I do not like to keep food once it smells off, though I am less affected by visual changes unless there is actually visible mold. Many visual changes are just because your food is desiccating from being in the fridge and/or microwaved repeatedly.

One person I live with suggests "Just cut the moldy part off the cheese" or bread and eat the rest of the cheese or bread. I am not keen on this solution as my understanding of mold is that the fuzzy visible part is only the tip of the iceberg -- it may be all the way through the food.

I do realize that I'd probably have starved to death in the pre-modern past during the winter or aboard long sea voyages or during a military campaign if I had these modern standards of edibility. You'd get weevilly cheese or bread and just pick them out (or eat the weevils for added protein).

But I would be unhappy about getting slimy wilted lettuce in a salad at a nice midprice restaurant because what am I paying for? I'm paying the restaurant to serve food at a higher standard. This actually happened once.
posted by bad grammar at 5:12 PM on January 14, 2011

There is no way something rational is happening more than once a week. I think it is also telling that you invent very specific, particularly unpleasant associations with what is happening (rat dung - slime that is as if someone sneezed on your lettuce). The juice thing I doubt your perceptions just because of all the other stuff, but I'm definitely opposed to any food you're going to eat being in contact with an uncleaned surface where raw meat has sat, so I guess you're 1 out of 4 in my book.
posted by nanojath at 5:21 PM on January 14, 2011

People on Metafilter will eat anything. Seriously, do you ever read the "should I eat this" questions? The fact that anyone here is agreeing with any of your decisions to throw food out is solid evidence that you're not nuts.
posted by HotToddy at 8:39 PM on January 14, 2011

I used to be you. I've relaxed somewhat just because friends who have zero food fear have never seemed to have problems. My friend accidentally left half a takeout sandwich sitting out on the counter until evening. I told him and he was like "I'll totally eat that - no problem." I would never eat that - meat and cheese and mayo and stuff sitting out unrefrigerated for hours? He would eat pizza that has sat out unrefrigerated all night. I won't drink milk if it's past the sell-by date, and even on the last day I'm sniffing it and skeptical. But I just realized after a while that I was in the minority on these things. I started relaxing some of what I think was just the way I was raised and I'm still here. Haven't gotten ill or anything. Just try letting it go. If nothing happens maybe you like just worry more than is useful.
posted by Askr at 9:19 PM on January 14, 2011

What auto-correct and Jane the Brown said. Also, I follow the TomMelee diet, and had similar experiences with food growing up. For any other iffy-seeming food, I trust my nose. I was at a wine fondue once with a hodgepodge of Europeans and Americans. At one point a guest (American) expressed concern that the same fondue fork or piece of meat or whatever was coming out of the fondue pot and going back where the raw meat was. The Europeans declared en masse that Americans were far too uncomfortable with their food and that it wouldn't even occur to them to be bothered.

There's also the self-fulfilling element of this. I gravitate toward greasy restaurants and meat juices. I had no problems eating fruits and vegetables on a recent visit to Southeast Asia. (Outlier disclaimer: I also drank the ground water and didn't get sick, but I am a weirdo.) Protect yourself from contamination > impede immune system > eat compromised food > get much sicker. However, you are not I and it's up to you to decide whether this is a problem for you or your family.
posted by therewolf at 10:02 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't be too worried about burgers touching the same spot where raw beef was, because raw beef is perfectly safe to eat.

Steak maybe, but ground beef is definitely not safe to eat raw.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:46 PM on January 14, 2011

The Europeans declared en masse that Americans were far too uncomfortable with their food

Maybe they have a less corrupt and disgusting meat industry than the US does. If they don't, and they still think this, their heads are in the sand.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:11 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Steak maybe, but ground beef is definitely not safe to eat raw.

Either you trust your beef supply or you don't. A steak is not safe to eat raw if you don't trust the supply, and ground beef is safe to eat raw if you do. Steak tartare is raw, after all.

That said, I don't think the OP is wrong about point 4. Not because I think we are likely to get sick from cross contamination of raw hamburger and cooked hamburger, but because it is trivial to do it properly and the risk, even if low, is non-zero. Why take any risk when the solution is so trivial?

But as others have pointed out, if this sort of thing is coming up on a weekly basis you're probably being overly paranoid.
posted by Justinian at 1:10 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Either you trust your beef supply or you don't. A steak is not safe to eat raw if you don't trust the supply, and ground beef is safe to eat raw if you do. Steak tartare is raw, after all.

That's a gross oversimplification of the matter. For one thing, being intact means that a steak can only become contaminated on the outer surface, which means that if you only partially cook it and leave the inside bloody/rare, you've still killed most chances of contamination since the outside will have still gotten hot enough to kill the contamination. When you grind beef you mix it all together which spreads any potential contamination all throughout the meat so that it must be cooked thoroughly all the way through to ensure safety.

Additionally, ground beef is made from trimmings that come from many cows and often multiple slaughterhouses, which are all just thrown into large bins to be ground, increasing the chances of spreading contamination. These trimmings are the lowest-grade ingredients and are also more likely to be contaminated with feces in the first place than the more expensive cuts due to their location. The industry tries to cut corners by putting the worst of the worst in ground beef in order to sell it cheap and since you can't really tell what you're looking at there's no way to know what parts it came from.

So it's not a binary yes/no decision about trusting the beef supply; some types of beef are more dangerous uncooked or undercooked than others. This is reflected in the USDA safety guidelines which state that ground beef must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160, but allows steaks to be cooked to an internal temperature of 145. Obviously they are hedging their bets here by only going as far as medium rare, but that's kind of their job. My point is that their recommendations reflect the asymmetry of the situation.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:36 PM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

Additionally, ground beef is made from trimmings that come from many cows and often multiple slaughterhouses, which are all just thrown into large bins to be ground, increasing the chances of spreading contaminatio

While this is true, if you do know your beef supply you will know when this is or isn't the case. For instance, if you go to a butcher shop which purchases whole cuts from local farms and grinds that meat onsite, you are bypassing the industrial beef system that spreads contamination so widely by combining cuts from hundreds of different animals into one batch of ground beef. In addition, that locally sourced small-scale beef is much less likely to be contaminated in the first place, because of all the practices down the line of production.

It's easy to make the error of "I have a good butcher who grinds their own beef, so it's safe" -- it's probably safeR, but most butchers today are buying from the same Big 4 meatpackers that grocery stores and fast food outlets are. It's all the same meat. Unless you know the source - and by source I don't mean butcher shop, I mean animal, with a specific location and farmer responsible, vs. giant meatpacking plant with untraceable product - you don't know anything useful in evaluating the safety of your beef.
posted by Miko at 8:47 AM on January 16, 2011

People on Metafilter will eat anything. Seriously, do you ever read the "should I eat this" questions? The fact that anyone here is agreeing with any of your decisions to throw food out is solid evidence that you're not nuts.

This is hilarious! Totally agree.
posted by Knowyournuts at 6:03 PM on January 16, 2011

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