As gross as curdled milk might be, it probably won’t make you sick. That’s because the molds, yeasts and bacteria that cause spoilage (i.e., food with an odd odor, flavor or texture) simply make foods look and taste unappetizing. On the flip side, pathogens in food, such as E. coli, can make you very sick, but they don’t make food taste, smell or look bad in any way, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The fact that pathogens are sometimes undetectable makes them all the more dangerous.
Every year in the United States, more than 250 foodborne diseases make 48 million of us ill, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, according to the CDC. Many of these bugs are already present on the foods we purchase at the store, says the USDA; but less-than-ideal storage conditions in our refrigerators allow them to contaminate other foods and grow out of control to the point that they can make you sick. The good news is that many cases of foodborne illness are completely preventable. Here are 11 dangerous fridge mistakes that might make you ill and how to set them right.