Were you the kid who would eat stray food that you found in the house or neighborhood? Maybe you found an unopened soda and took a swig. Or you found an abandoned lunch sack and helped yourself. For most of us, stray food is undesirable, if not taboo. But what if you had to subsist on scavenged foods in the aftermath of a disaster or crisis? Could you put away your pickiness then, and would you know how to tell good food from bad? Hopefully you never have to find out the hard way, but if you do, here are a few tricks that can help you determine the safety of scavenged food and drink.

1. Expiration Dates
This one is simple enough. Check the date on the package. Canned goods are the most forgiving food resource, lasting several years past their expiration date—if the can is in perfect condition and stored properly. Bottled water lasts indefinitely, though it may taste a little strange if it is old.

2. Fresh Food
Let’s say a spring twister went through your town a few days ago, the weather was cool, and you found a sealed fridge full of food in the wreckage. What would you eat out of there? Any power outage can make some fresh foods unsafe within hours. But there are still things you could use in there. Sealed beverages are still good. Whole raw vegetables like onions and carrots would still be good for several days. But any meat, dairy, eggs, prepared foods and opened foods should be avoided like the plague.

3. Questionable Cans
Intact canned foods may last up to 10 years under ideal storage conditions, but what about the funny looking cans? The dented and dinged cans may still be fine, and there’s an easy way to check. The canning process creates a weak vacuum inside the container. This means that air should be sucked in when the can opener first pierces the lid. If you place a few drops of potable water on the lid, then place the can opener on that spot and squeeze – the drops should be sucked into the can when the seal is broken. If the water blows out and away, the can was under pressure and should not be used. The conditions to produce botulinum toxin is one of the reasons why a can may build pressure, and even a tiny amount of this toxin can lead to a fatal case of botulism.


4. Bountiful Bags
Bagged foods like chips, cookies, snack foods, and other dry goods are often packed with nitrogen instead of regular air. This keeps the food fresh for a longer period of time than ordinary air in the container. If you find bagged food that is unopened, tightly sealed and before its expiration date, you should be safe. You can check the seals by simply squeezing the bag. If it doesn’t deflate, you have a factory seal and most likely a safe product to eat.

5. Trust Your Nose
In the animal kingdom, one of the greatest attributes of a scavenger is their sense of smell. You too can use your sniffer to help out your assessment. If it doesn’t smell right, don’t eat it!

What would you eat something you found? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment.