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Food Safety Issues/spoiled cooked vegetables - disposal


Dear Carol,

First of all, bless your heart for navigating our troubles and mistakes.
Here's mine:  I cooked frozen peas and green beans together in some water in an electric skillet, ate some, then turned the skillet off and covered it, intending to refrigerate the leftovers soon.  Instead, I got ill (not from the food) and couldn't get back to take care of the skillet for almost a day -- although I saw its appearance (glass cover) a few times during the day.  It would have made an amazing biology movie if clean-up hadn't become such a challenge when I could finally do it.  After overnight, there was some milky-slimy looking growth on the water surface.  Some hours later there was a crusty-looking cream-colored layer over everything.  And when I finally was well enough to deal with it, a second reddish-colored crusty-looking layer had started to form.
So - I removed the lid and to try to disinfect the growth before removing it I poured in a good deal of household hydrogen peroxide.  This turned out to be a sort of mistake for two reasons:  It didn't stay on the surface, it slid under the crust instead and started working from underneath; and, it started foaming up large bubbles from underneath, which popped and were covered with material that hadn't been affected by the H2O2 yet, so tiny bits of that must have gone off into the air (not my plan, certainly...).  So I took a large stainless steel spoon and did my best (not perfect) to push all the crusty pieces under the peroxide and let it soak in.  During this process I was inadvertently breaking the dry (non-oxidized) crust into pieces so there must have been some additional tiny material thrown into the air (aargh).  Then I carefully scooped the wet and hopefully denatured material into a stainless steel bowl and slowly poured it down the garbage disposal in my sink, following it with a lot of hot soapy (dish detergent) water.  I wiped out the skillet and in fact bagged it and threw it away b/c there were places on the heat connection and heat control (a small amount had overflowed) that I was never going to be able to clean or disinfect in a way I could be comfortable with.  All of this so far, while it was unfortunate (and perhaps embarrassingly stupid to boot) is not what I'm worried about.  I'm worried about what may have and most likely did become airborne during the clean-up process:  what may have gotten on my skin, hair, clothing, etc.  While I didn't notice any visible transfer of material, I didn't change clothes or shower (I had to go out for lab tests for something else) - which means I wore my winter parka, good suede hiking boots, touched all sorts of things, sat on my upholstered furniture and fabric car seats, etc., etc. and actually fell asleep on my sofa (long, hard, and otherwise-sick day and night).  Afterward I wiped down the top of my kitchen table, counter, and sink with dilute Clorox and was able, the next day, to shower and launder some of my clothing - but not the parka, car seats, sofa, etc.  Sad to say, "careful clean-up" is easier in theory than in practice, especially when other difficult things are happening.  So - how much if any risk have I made for myself and other people who will ride in my car, sit on my furniture, touch my purse, boots, etc?  Also, do I have to worry about where airborne tiny bits of yuck-crust have landed:  floor, chairs, nearby walls and Venetian blinds?  This all happened a few days ago and I'm still quite worried.  
I used to do virus research for a living but know very little about microbiology in the context of everyday life - enough to be terribly worried and anxious but not enough to put the situation into perspective.  I don't even know if that growth was bacterial or slime-mold or ???   I phoned the local poison center and also the state dept of health and USDA -- people gave me their opinions but were clearly and admittedly not always well-informed.  A physician friend of mine thinks I have nothing to worry about - I would be very happy to find out that she's correct.  Can you shed any light on this?  
Some suggestions were that I use very dilute Clorox on anything "nearby" including spraying it on fabric and perhaps shoes and boots.  Two years ago I was given that advice for my stove after a mice invasion with the result that I ruined the best stove I've ever had, so for at least one reason I'm not in a hurry to do this if I don't need to.  If I don't have to worry about airborne material that must have erupted from the bubbles braking and the crust cracking, then that's fine with me --- I don't want to do a Clorox blitz just to "feel better" if I don't need to.  
Can you help me to know what I'm dealing with and what, if anything, I actually need to do?  
Thank you so much for your patience listening to all this and for any help you can offer.

Hi Sheila,

I agree with your physician have nothing to worry about. While I can't say exactly what was the source of the growth on your beans and peas, chances are it was some form of mold or yeast as food borne illness organisms typically are not visible to the naked eye.

I would not be concerned with airborne material and simply washing the affected area followed by a bleach-water solution (1 Tablespoon bleach in a gallon of water) that is allowed to air dry should be sufficient to santize the area.

Hope you have a Merry Christmas.


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Carol Schlitt


I can answer questions on home food safety, sanitation and home food preservation.


I am a former Extension educator, nutrition, wellness and food safety, having retired August 1, 2010. I am a food safety instructor for the Illinois Department of Public Health, a ServSafe Instructor/Proctor and have my own company, Safe & Savory Solutions, Inc -

National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (Past President and current Historian), St. Louis Culinary Society.

BS - University of Illinois MS - Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville

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