What Happens If You Eat Bad Coleslaw

Have you ever taken a big bite of coleslaw, only to realize it tastes a little off? I certainly have, and let me tell you – it’s not a pleasant experience. As soon as that funky flavor hits your taste buds, a million anxious questions race through your mind. Is this coleslaw bad? What if it makes me sick? How can you even tell if coleslaw has gone bad?

Eating bad or spoiled coleslaw can definitely cause foodborne illness. The creamy cabbage dish is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria when not stored and handled properly. In this post, I’ll walk you through what can go wrong with coleslaw, symptoms of illness, and how to prevent getting sick from coleslaw in the first place. Let’s dig in!

What Can Go Wrong with Coleslaw

Coleslaw seems like a simple dish – just cabbage, mayonnaise or dressing, and a few extra ingredients for flavor. However, there are a few key ways coleslaw can go from tasty to dangerous:

  • Ingredient issues: Using old, wilted cabbage or expired mayonnaise can introduce harmful bacteria. Old jars of dressing or sauces past their prime can also cause problems. Always check expiration dates!
  • Storage problems: Leaving coleslaw unrefrigerated or storing leftovers too long gives bacteria time to multiply. Coleslaw only lasts about 4-5 days refrigerated. After that, the risk of foodborne illness rises rapidly.
  • Contamination: Introducing bacteria during prep by using unwashed produce, dirty utensils, or unsafe food handling habits. Washing cabbage thoroughly and maintaining a clean cooking space greatly reduces this risk.

To expand on each of these issues:

Cabbage tends to go bad quickly once cut or shredded. Signs of spoiled cabbage include wilting, discoloration and an unpleasant sulfur-like smell. Using old or rotten cabbage in coleslaw can transfer bacteria like Listeria, Salmonella and E. Coli to the finished dish.

Similarly, expired mayonnaise can grow dangerous bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, which causes severe food poisoning. Tossing old, discolored dressing or sauces well past their prime is equally important. Always check expiration dates on any store-bought ingredients before making coleslaw.

Even if you start with fresh ingredients, leaving prepared coleslaw out at room temperature or neglecting to refrigerate leftovers allows bacteria to thrive. Most coleslaw recipes state it will keep about 4-5 days refrigerated, but don’t push it longer than that. When in doubt, remember the old adage – “when it smells, it tells”. Discard coleslaw that looks or smells off.

Finally, introducing bacteria during the prep process can also cause illness. Using unwashed hands, dirty utensils or cutting boards can easily transfer bacteria to the coleslaw. Always wash produce thoroughly, even bagged cabbage. Maintain a clean cooking space and practice safe food handling when making coleslaw to avoid contamination issues.

Symptoms of Foodborne Illness

If you’ve eaten coleslaw harboring harmful bacteria, symptoms of foodborne illness usually begin within 12-72 hours after consumption. However, onset time can vary depending on the type and amount of bacteria ingested.

Common symptoms include:

  • Stomach cramps and abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache and fever
  • Dehydration

More severe cases may also involve bloody stool, extreme vomiting, and neurological issues like numbness or paralysis. These worrisome symptoms often indicate infection by dangerous bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella.

In otherwise healthy adults, symptoms typically resolve within 24-48 hours. But certain high-risk groups like pregnant women, young children, elderly and immunocompromised individuals have a higher chance of developing complications.

Seeking medical care is recommended if symptoms don’t improve after 3-4 days, or if they suddenly worsen after initial improvement. Signs of dehydration like excessive thirst, dry mouth, dizziness or dark urine also warrant prompt medical attention.

How to Prevent Getting Sick from Coleslaw

The good news? There are some simple food safety rules you can follow to avoid ever getting sick from coleslaw:

  • Handle ingredients safely – Thoroughly wash cabbage and other produce. Use clean utensils, cutting boards and hands when prepping.
  • Store coleslaw refrigerated at 40°F or below. Toss any leftovers after 4-5 days.
  • Check expiration dates on mayonnaise, salad dressings or sauces. Don’t use anything past its prime.
  • Discard coleslaw that smells bad or looks slimy, discolored or wilted. Don’t taste questionable coleslaw!
  • Make fresh batches in small quantities. Don’t keep large amounts hanging around too long.

Following basic food handling and hygiene practices goes a long way when making coleslaw. Be particularly vigilant about refrigeration times. While properly stored coleslaw stays safe for about a week, don’t tempt fate longer than that. A fresh batch is smarter than foodborne illness!

The Takeaway on Eating Bad Coleslaw

Hopefully this article has convinced you not to take chances with questionable coleslaw. While it likely won’t cause major issues in healthy adults, coming down with a nasty bout of food poisoning is still an experience best avoided.

Always err on the side of caution – if your coleslaw tastes or looks funky, throw it out. Likewise, be diligent about washing produce, checking expiration dates, and following refrigeration guidelines. A few simple precautions can prevent hours of stomach misery.

In summary, coleslaw can definitely cause foodborne illness if ingredients go bad, stored improperly, or contaminated during prep. Symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea and cramps are usually temporary but no fun. By practicing food safety and making coleslaw in small, fresh batches, you can feel confident your creamy cabbage creation is safe to enjoy. Bon appétit!

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