Is my Muffaletta mix safe to eat?
May 11, 2008 8:48 PM   Subscribe

Can-I-Eat-This-filter: Is this jar of Muffaletta olive salad mix safe to eat?

So in my haste to get some souvenirs and gifts from my trip to New Orleans last month, I purchased a few jars of Central Grocery's famous Mufaletta olive salad mix on my way to the airport.

What I didn't notice until I had landed a few hours later in Las Vegas for the second leg of my vacation, was that the label on the olive salad recommended that the jars be kept refrigerated even before opening them.

Being that I didn't have a refrigerator in my hotel room for my 7 day stay in Vegas (though I kept the A/C in my room at a nice chilly 61 degrees most of the time), I've been afraid to eat the olive salad, out of fear of botulism of some other nasties that may have formed between April 9, (when I purchased that jars), and April 17 (when I arrived home and stuck them into my fridge...where they've been ever since).

I know that there is a risk of botulism from consuming homemade garlic & oil infusions, and since the olive salad is likely loaded with garlic, I'm wondering just how risky it is to eat this stuff, a month later.

This stuff looks so goddamned yummy, it would be a shame if I have to throw it out!
posted by melorama to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My mantra is "When in doubt, throw it out!" but I'm a mom so I'm freakishly paranoid about food safety.
posted by amyms at 8:56 PM on May 11, 2008

Basic analysis: what is the benefit of eating the yummy olive salad mix? What is the risk if it turns out to be toxic?

Only you can determine if the potential benefit is worth the potential cost. If it were me: it's just a thing, and things can be replaced if necessary. My health cannot be replaced. I'd toss it without a second thought.
posted by SPrintF at 9:04 PM on May 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by delmoi at 9:14 PM on May 11, 2008

Response by poster: I guess I'm hoping for a loophole here, given the non-committal nature of the label "warning". It didn't say that it "must" be refrigerated even before says "recommended to store refrigerated, even if unopened".
posted by melorama at 9:17 PM on May 11, 2008

It says "store under refrigeration" which likely means after opening...maybe they just mean they taste better cold? And none of those things, pickled, should cause you any harm if they were stored out of a refrigerator in a sealed jar. You buy pickled peppers, onions, olives, etc off the non-refrigerated shelf, yes?
posted by SassHat at 9:19 PM on May 11, 2008

When you bought it in the store, was it on display in a fridge? If not, I'd suggest you'll be okay.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:44 PM on May 11, 2008

I would so eat it, if I were in your position.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:12 PM on May 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:24 PM on May 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do a sniff, take a look. Anything visibly weird or smelly then don't eat. Otherwise, nom.
posted by loiseau at 12:07 AM on May 12, 2008

Best answer: If it was refrigerated in the store, I recommend you don't eat it. There are basically 2 ways to can food so that it's safe from botulism:
Normal canning - food is heated in boiling water to 212F. This kills any live bacteria, but botulism spores still survive. This only works if the food has a high enough level of acid and/or salt to prevent botulism growth.

Pressure canning - food is heated under pressure until it's well above 212F, rupturing any botulism spores. This method lets you can food that is less salty or acidic, but destroys a lot of flavor (think canned green beans).

If the jar was refrigerated when you bought it, that means it was definitely canned using the first method. Which means that the manufacturer knows the acid and salt content are too low to protect against the growth of botulism. Combined with the week of storage above 40F, this is the wet, anaerobic environment that botulism likes to grow in.

Your overall risk of getting botulism is small, there are only a few cases a year in the US. But this sounds like one of those classic "improperly stored canned food" situations. Is that salad really worth the possibility of an agonizing death?

On preview:
Do a sniff, take a look. Anything visibly weird or smelly then don't eat. Otherwise, nom.

Many pathogenic bacteria cause no detectable change in food, botulism included. It doesn't always make cans swell and can kill you well before they do.
posted by TungstenChef at 12:31 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Why is there a risk of botulism with garlic?
posted by hal_c_on at 2:22 AM on May 12, 2008

Response by poster: I'm pretty sure that the jars I had purchased were just sitting out on the counter, next to the cash register.

Here's a picture of the counter. In the lower left corner of the picture, you can see the tops of the jars of olive salad. I don't recall these jars feeling cold to the touch, so I can't imagine that they're frequently replenishing the jars with new ones from a refrigerator.
posted by melorama at 4:02 AM on May 12, 2008

Response by poster: Why is there a risk of botulism with garlic?

There's a nice handy link there, where it says "risk of botulism".
posted by melorama at 4:03 AM on May 12, 2008

Man, that stuff will be fine. It just means refrigerate after opening. Chow down and enjoy!
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:17 AM on May 12, 2008

Call them and ask: (504) 620-0174
posted by donpardo at 4:35 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ship it to me. I'll eat it.

No really, should be fine. Remember that food labels are getting more paranoid too -- they probably think some doofus would keep it in their glove compartment in July if they didn't remind you to keep it cool.
posted by desuetude at 6:34 AM on May 12, 2008

Does anybody else think it may just be poor/unconventional wording? "Store Under Refrigeration" could be equivalent to "Refrigerate after Opening". It depends on your definition of when you begin to "store" the jar. I know that's weird, but Mom & Pop operations have a tendency to not pay meticulous attention to the phrasing on their labels.

Is there additional information on the label other than what's in the picture?
posted by dosterm at 7:08 AM on May 12, 2008

Basic analysis: what is the benefit of eating the yummy olive salad mix? What is the risk if it turns out to be toxic?

You forgot a key third question: how likely is it to turn out to be toxic? Which is a key part of what melorama is asking us. A low potential benefit can outweigh a high potential cost if the probability of that cost is sufficiently small.

Given that the jars were stored at room temperature in the grocery, I'd eat it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:31 AM on May 12, 2008

Best answer: I'm pretty sure there is a decent amount of vinegar making the mix pretty acidic. I seriously doubt that your in any danger. (I'd eat it even if it had been open and left unrefrigerated for 7 days but then I'm a NOLA native who moved away 30 years ago and would kill for a jar of Central Grocery olive salad.)
posted by Carbolic at 8:33 AM on May 12, 2008

I cannot speak to whether it's "safe", but you should certainly eat it. I would, and I regularly do eat such things, and I have a track record of almost thirty years of being not dead.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:35 AM on May 12, 2008

How can "Store refrigerated, even if unopened" mean "Refrigerate after opening"? They mean precisely the opposite. It might be for reasons of taste or whatever, but taking one to mean the other is some impressive linguistic contortionism.

I don't think hotel A/C at 61F for a week could be considered adequate refrigeration, considering that a properly running fridge is ~40F. That's a long time, at a higher temp, for anything in there to grow and pump out bad stuff. Personally, I don't think the benefit outweighs the risk.

Next time you go traveling and want to bring back stuff like that without worrying, buy/bring a cooler and get bags of ice to keep your goodies cool in the hotel room.
posted by CKmtl at 8:54 AM on May 12, 2008

Best answer: I think the language is very odd, but judging by this photo, they don't refrigerate it themselves.

So I'd say you're safe. And if you'd like to make your own, here's an approximation.
posted by O9scar at 8:18 PM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

So did you eat it?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:49 PM on May 14, 2008

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