Have you ever had food go bad? You probably have! Food going bad is a very common problem. There is certain (specific) vocabulary used for when food goes bad. Not every word describes (talks about) each kind of food. We thought it would be a good idea to talk about this. Which words do you use for which food? What do you say when food is bad?

Here is some common vocabulary for when food is bad. Have you heard any of these before? Read on (keep reading) to find out more.


Have you ever bought cereal that has gone stale? We use the word stale to talk about dry goods that can’t be eaten anymore. Dry goods can be bread, cereal, crackers, chips, etc. If something goes stale, it may get soft. For example, if a chip goes stale, it won’t be crunchy (hard). It will get soft instead.  The opposite (completely different) is true for bread. Instead of getting soft, stale bread well get hard. When food is stale, the taste will change. That’s how you can tell it has gone stale.

For example:

  • I wanted to make a sandwich, but the bread was stale. Instead of being soft, it had gotten hard.
  • She wanted to eat some crackers, but the box had been open for a long time. The crackers had gone stale.


Hopefully you’ve never eaten rotten food! When food is rotten, it starts to decompose (decay). Meat, fruit, and vegetables can go rotten. When food is rotten, the smell will change. The taste and the way the food looks will also change. It’s very obvious (clear) when food is rotten. If you have food that is rotten, throw it away.

For example:

  • The garbage hasn’t been collected in a week. There’s food in there that has gone rotten. The garbage really smells!
  • He saw some vegetables in his refrigerator had gone rotten. He had to throw them all away.


Spoiled is a general word you can use for bad food. Any food can spoil. However, what you may hear often is spoiled milk. This is when milk goes sour. The smell of spoiled milk will change, too. Spoiled food is really disgusting (gross), and I hate the smell of spoiled milk. I hope you don’t have food spoil often!

For example:

  • Can you smell this milk? Does it smell like it has spoiled to you?
  • At the farmer’s market, she wanted to sell all the vegetables she had. She didn’t want them to spoil!


Another word you may hear when milk goes bad is curdled. Curdled milk is milk that has gone very, very bad. Curdled milk has a sour taste and smell. It also gets chunky (has pieces in it). No one likes to drink curdled milk! However, sometimes you use lightly (just a little bit) curdled milk in baking.

For example:

  • We went on vacation for three weeks, and forgot we left milk in the fridge. When we got home, it was completely curdled!
  • If you don’t have curdled milk for a recipe, you can add a little lemon juice to regular milk. This will curdle it.


Lots of food can get moldy. Bread, fruit, and vegetables can all get moldy. Mold is a furry-looking growth on food. Mold is a type of fungi (like mushrooms, but smaller). If you see moldy food, throw it away! You can’t eat moldy food. Food mold might be white, blue, or black. I usually see mold on bread. This is bread we have had for a few days. I always find mold on bread when I really want a sandwich!

For example:

  • The restaurant was shut down (closed permanently) because of a food inspection. They found a lot of moldy food in the refrigerator.
  • He had to throw away some moldy bread. He had forgotten he had it, since it was pushed to the back of the cabinet.

Have you used any of this vocabulary before? Have you had food spoil recently? Share with us in the comments below!

Did you like this blog? Share it with others! Let us know what YOU think!

Check out these other popular blogs: Internet Vocabulary You Should KnowBar Vocabulary in English5 Podcasts to Listen to If You Want to Improve Your English, or this Pregnancy Vocabulary in English!

Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and hate when food spoils! It feels like such a waste.

Looking for more phrases, ways to use English every day, or get the conversation started? Sign up for our newsletter or check out the website!