The Experimental Case of the Expired Chuck Roast

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I haven’t written any journey updates in a while because there isn’t really anything to write about. Things are still going poorly, and continually bitching about life would be irritating and make for an uninteresting read. But today you’re in for a treat. Today, we’re going discuss what I’m calling The Experimental Case of the Expired Chuck Roast.

A Little Back Story

Using an 8 month old jar of jelly I found in the fridge (which I’m pretty sure is mine from a while back) and a 10-month-old jar of peanut butter squirreled away in the back of the pantry by a former roommate from two years ago, I’ve been eating nothing but two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a day for the past few weeks.

I’m so sick of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that developing pica is becoming an increasingly seductive alternative. (You should see the plastic knife I use to make these damn sandwiches or the mostly devoured pen on my desk.)

Anyway, to get on with the story, earlier last month a roommate of mine moved back in after spending the summer at home in Texas. His parents, in true southern fashion, went to the grocery store and stocked him up with all kinds of meat, wings, chips, drinks, soups, etc etc.

The amount of food I’ve seen college students’ parents buy that has got bad over years could feed a starving third world country. I’ve seen massive amounts of chicken, steak and ribs just sit around the freezer for months, sometimes years, at a time until they become rancid and have to be thrown out. (That’s just the tip of the iceberg too. Don’t get me started on the amount of bread, uneaten cereal, rotten fruit… the list goes on and on.)

That being said, this roommate in particular is usually pretty good about not wasting food. I’ve seen him cook roasts, burgers and whatnot in the past, so I thought nothing of it.

Fast forward a couple weeks and he’s in the kitchen putting together a roast. We get to talking and apparently his dad put a roast in the refrigerator instead of the freezer when he was putting groceries away, but my roommate didn’t see it. It’s now well over a week past the expiration date and quite discolored, so he decided to throw it out.

Expiration Date Pic
The expiration date is 8/22. This all happened from 9/1 – 9/2.

I can’t stand wasted food. Wasting food was a major no-no in my family. Add to that having been broke, homeless and starving before, and even when I was making good money I never wasted food. So I decided to check out just how bad this roast was and fished it out of the trash. (It was still tightly wrapped in its packaging.)

It was a little discolored, but browned the same way I’ve seen meat brown as it’s being cooked or if I left half a package of uncooked meat in the frig to cook the next day. I figured the discoloration was just the result of oxidation. (Yes, I’m enough of a science nerd to think like that. I originally went to college for chemical engineering because I find chemistry interesting.) It didn’t look dangerous or wholly inedible like some of the other things I’ve seen roommates leave behind, leaving me with a decision to make. To eat, or not to eat?

My thought process was simple: What’s the worst that could happen? I get a little sick after getting to eat a delicious roast? Fuck peanut butter and jelly!

With that in mind, I decided to give it a go, but I had already eaten my daily ration of two sandwiches and didn’t want to waste the roast as excess. So I stuck it in the freezer, hoping to limit any further degradation, and started step one of the experimental process.

Pre-Experiment Research

Since I had some time to mull my decision over, I started researching to find out if in fact cooking the roast was a viable idea or pure insanity. Was it really too far past the point of healthy consumption?

The internet is a terrible place for health tips, but after a while I found out discoloration is not an accurate indicator of spoiled meat. I’ll spare you the scientific details. Suffice to say it’s a sign of harmless oxidation as I originally thought. It can be considered a warning sign of spoilage soon to come, but it’s not a damnable sign in-and-of itself.

There are two major signs that denote whether or not meat is in fact spoiled: slimness and odor. If the meat is slimy to the touch, like a fish, or smells bad, again kind of like fish, then it’s probably not a good idea to ingest it.

Because the meat was still in its tightly wrapped packaging, I had no way of knowing if either of these signs were evident until I was ready to cook. I’d now have to wait until it thawed out to discover if it smelled or was slimy, and the thawing process would skew the sliminess results at least a bit. What if I couldn’t definitely tell if it was bad or not after opening it?

I decided to refocus my research on just how harmful it was to eat spoiled meat. Of course eating it raw would be a terrible idea, but wouldn’t thoroughly cooking it kill off all the bacteria anyway?

As it turns out, yes, all the harmful bacteria would be obliterated when I cooked the meat. (Except for two particular types but they only tend to be around if the meat is super bad off.) However, unlike the bacteria, the toxins they leave behind do not get vaporized during the cooking process. These toxins are what cause food poisoning.

food-poisoning-jokeWell I’ve never had food poisoning and I’ve heard of plenty of people who got through it fine. How bad could it be?

The Center for Disease Control (the CDC) estimates that 48 million Americans get sick with food poisoning each year. 128,000 of those people are hospitalized and about 3,000 die. That means even if I get sick, I have a .0027% chance of requiring hospitalization and a .00006% chance of dying.

The Hypothesis

I liked my odds! The best case was nothing happened, the worst case – albeit extremely unlikely – I died after getting to eat a tasty cooked chuck roast.

After all the research it seemed like the most probable outcome would be mild food poison, meaning stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. Sounding like a fair trade off, I decided to move forward with the experiment.

The next day, after waiting for the meat to thaw and telling my roommate to put a ‘Fuck Peanut Butter and Jelly. It Was Worth It.’ sign on my grave should the worst come to pass, I set about preparing the chuck roast.

The Method

I had nothing but the roast, so I wasn’t sure how to prepare it. First things first though, it was time to open it up and take a whiff.

At first I didn’t smell anything and the top part of the roast didn’t feel slimy. My impatience had left the roast partially frozen though. I still couldn’t be sure if it was spoiled or not. Then, as I went pick it up for closer inspection, I touched the sides.

The sides were so slimy it felt like I’d grabbed a live fish from the water. Touching the sides caused me to collect this brownish substance along my fingers that made them smell like a fish market. I didn’t need to research to know it meant bad things, but the thought of cooked meat put me into problem-solving mode.

Beginning Cut of RoastAfter looking the whole thing over I decided to cut into the roast. Slicing off a piece from the left end, I took a look inside. It looked fine, not even discolored, so I decided to cut a fourth of an inch around the perimeter of the entire roast.

All we had were traditional steak knives, nothing big enough to smoothly cut through the slab of meat in front of me. I took a knife and, after cutting around the roast, sawed through the front and back portions. It took a bit to get through the semi-frozen, fatty bits, but after some sawing I managed to cut away the worst parts of the meat and transferred the remaining slab to a different cutting board in hopes of avoiding as much contamination as possible.

It was still discolored, but it wasn’t as slimy as the portions I had cut away and didn’t smell at all. I now had this big uncooked chuck roast sitting in front of me with no clue how to prepare it.

Steak Bites Cut UpA year or so ago, when I was making decent money, I used to occasionally buy New York strip steaks and cook them into little bites before using the steak bites to make steak quesadillas. I luckily had some extra virgin olive oil lying around in the pantry from those days. While I would’ve loved to make some quesadillas, which I could eat well off of for days using just one steak, I didn’t have tortillas, cheese or peppers.

I still decided to cook the roast into bites for a few different reasons.

  1. The roast had a massive bit of fat down the center and didn’t look like it was going to cut into steak very well.
  1. I wanted to make sure that everything was super well cooked, which is really easy and quick to do with steak bites.
  1. I couldn’t think of a better idea and I was hungry.IMG_20150902_161459

I cut the roast up into dozens of bite-sized steak bits before setting the stove to seven and filling a pan with olive oil. My first mistake, as you may notice from the pictures, was filling the pan with a bit too much olive oil. (Keep in mind that I’ve never been taught or seen anyone cook a steak before in my life, except on a grill.)

It didn’t take long for grease to start splattering all over the place. It splashed around the stove and hit my arms as I used a knife and fork to rotate the bites occasionally. (Old roommates stole my spatula and a few other cooking utensils, so I had to make do.) Being a bit of a pyro who’s burned himself more times than he can remember, the splatter was no big deal, but the aftermath was a little insane and took some elbow grease to clean up – I’m getting ahead of myself though.

Steak Bites CookingAfter waiting for what felt like forever, the moment of truth had arrived. I took a piece out of the pan and cut it in half to make sure it was thoroughly cooked through before popping it into my mouth.

It was delicious. Heavenly even. It wasn’t the greatest thing I’d ever cooked or tasted, but after so much time eating only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (Are you tired of me spelling out peanut butter and jelly? Yea? Well now maybe you know how I feel!), it was awesome. The first bite told me it well worth the trouble.

I ate as I cooked. Already pushing the food poisoning envelope, I decided to just make the roast my meal for the day. (I wasn’t going to be able to afford tortillas or cheese any time soon anyway.) And it was one hell of a delicious meal.

Steak Bites FinishedThe Conclusion

The entire stove top had a thick layer of grease due to all the splatter, which I knew from prior experience would only get a lot harder to clean up later. I wiped down the stove top, put my dishes in the sink and waited. (No, I didn’t just sit around, but you get the point.)

In my personal experience, proteins and vitamins flow right through you after you’ve been malnourished for a while. After experiencing that phenomenon, going to sleep and waking up this morning, I think it’s pretty safe to say I’m fine.

The most common forms of food poisoning tend to set in between six to ten hours. While you can get sick up to ten days after ingestion, I don’t think the meat was that bad off. I think it’s safe to proclaim the experiment a resounding success, getting off scot-free without even experiencing a small amount of food poisoning.

It was honestly a fun, tasty exercise over the last couple days. I learned a lot about the spoiling of meat from firsthand experience that could come in handy later in life – more handy than the epsilon delta definition of mathematical limits ever has at least.

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