Don’t Rely on the Smell Test

We use our sense of smell daily. The smell of fire smoke sends us off to search for safety. Smelling food gets our taste buds excited and our mouths watering. I’ve had friends smell their armpits to decide if they need to shower. We use our sense of smell for pleasure and care, but when our lives and health are at stake, we shouldn’t rely on it to keep us safe. Two prime examples of instances where relying on our sense of smell can cause trouble include the topics of foodborne illness and chemical gases.

At home, I’ll oftentimes ask my mother if food is still “good” or not. Really, I’m wondering if it’s safe to eat. No one wants to deal with the effects of food poisoning, but how can I resist the temptation to eating the raw cookie dough in the refrigerator that seems to be calling out my name. Eat me! Eat me! With meats, my mom uses the smell rule to determine if it has spoiled or not. If you open a bag of bacon and you are overwhelmed by an odor that makes your face scrunch up, I would not advise making that delicious BLT sandwich that you’ve been dreaming about since breakfast. Rancid smells often indicate that food has spoiled and been infected with bacteria, but other foodborne illnesses are undetectable by smell. Improper handling of meat and eggs oftentimes causes contamination, so if you’ve let eggs sit out for just a little bit too long in your car on the way home from the grocery store or you’ve let your ground beef stay in the fridge a day later than the “freeze by” date, it is better to be safer than sorry: throw it out! Most people know that sour smells from meat signify bacteria within the food, so they dispose of it; however, foodborne illnesses haven’t gone extinct. This is because most serious foodborne pathogens are undetectable. Salmonella is the leading pathogen found in patients that have been hospitalized, and it’s undetectable by smell. Salmonella contamination can occur anywhere along the spectrum of preparation from the farm all the way through the moment you put the food in your mouth. Without laboratory testing, Salmonella is undetectable, and though farm and grocery store care are beyond much of your control, what you do when you receive your meat is completely up to you. You have the power to greatly reduce contamination. Follow the proper care of your meat and eggs by cleaning it properly and keeping raw meat and eggs separate from other foods. Make sure to cook to cook your food to the designated temperature before consumption and keep perishable food refrigerated or frozen until ready to prepare. Do not consume meat or eggs past their expiration date. Beyond this, you should pay attention to recalls on products, and as a rule of thumb, if you’re unsure about your food it’s better to throw it than risk suffering major health consequences.

Another safety related concern where we rely on smell pertains to gases. If we smell gas leaking from a gas stove, we know to take action. However, smell cannot always combat against harmful gases; carbon monoxide is very dangerous yet undetectable to humans because it is colorless and odorless. Do not assume you are safe! Install CO monitors in your home to protect against poisoning.

Always remember, smell can help us stay safe, but relying on it is a big mistake. Just because their is a lack of smell doesn’t mean safety.


One thought on “Don’t Rely on the Smell Test

  1. I really enjoyed how you started out by appealing to the readers sense of smell and giving vivid details of the smells to catch your readers attention. The approach you took on making the sense of smell into a safety hazard was something I would have never thought of, but after you talked about it, it made perfect sense. Very creative idea and well written post.


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