Deciding what needs to go and what is still okay to eat can be a little confusing. Different containers give different types of information and it is up to the consumer to know what it means. There are three main dates that you find on packaged foods:
• “Sell-By” dates tell the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
• “Best if Used By (or Before)” dates are recommended for the best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
• “Use By” dates are the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date is determined by the manufacturer of the product.
You might also see “closed or coded dates”. These are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer and are used more for food quality, not food safety. Perishable foods like meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs are the most vulnerable to spoilage. It is recommended that you pay attention to the “use-by” dates on these products. The “smell test” is not always accurate with these foods. You cannot see, smell, or taste bacteria that cause food-borne illness. If you can’t use a food before the “use-by” date, freeze it.
For eggs, always purchase them before the “sell-by” date on the carton. When you get home, refrigerate the eggs in the coldest part of the refrigerator in the original container. Use eggs within 3-5 weeks of purchase.
A helpful website offered by the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension Service is www.4daythrowaway.org. The rule promoted here is leftovers should be thrown away after four days in the refrigerator. Clicking on the “leftover safety” tab will take you to a page of labels that you can print to use on leftovers stored in the refrigerator. It identifies the food in the container and the date that it was stored.
There are also recommendations for the length of time that you can store canned foods. High acid foods such as tomatoes will have the best quality if used within 12 to 18 months. Low acid foods such as meats, fish, or vegetables will retain the best quality if used within 2-5 years. This is provided the can remains in good condition and is stored in a cool, clean, dry place. Use the FIFO (First in, first out) method to use the older cans first. Store the most recently purchased items behind existing foods. Home canned foods should be used within one year for best quality.
Other non-perishables also have storage recommendations. These recommendations are all based on storing foods at a room temperature of about 70 ̊F. Many of these foods will have a “use-by” date that should be followed. Recommendations for other non-perishable foods are:
• Baking Powder and Baking Soda- 12 to 18 months or expiration date on container.
• Shortening- 3 to 8 months opened; 8 to 12 months unopened
• Popcorn (not microwave)- 2 years—do not store in the refrigerator as it dries out and does not pop as well.
• Spices and herbs- 1 year for ground spices; 2 years for whole spices
• White flour- 6 to 12 months
• Whole wheat flour- 1 to 3 months (refrigerate if you want to keep it longer)
• Brown sugar- 4 to 6 months for maximum flavor
• White granulated sugar- 2 years
• Vegetable oil- 1 to 6 months opened; 6 to 12 months unopened
• Vinegar- 2 years unopened; 1 year opened (some manufacturers recommendations will vary)
If you have tossed out portions of expired foods bought in large containers, maybe you should consider purchasing a smaller container next time. Large containers may not be a bargain if you end up throwing part of it away. Keep a permanent marker in your kitchen and write the date purchased (month and year) on food containers.
Don’t forget that the Trigg County Biggest Loser Community Weight Loss Challenge is continuing. Our next class in the “Lighten Up!” series will be held on Thursday, February 21, 2013, from 5:00-6:30 PM at the Trigg County Extension Office. We will be presenting ways to lighten up meals with vegetables. Call the Extension Office at 270-522-3269 before noon on February 20th to register. Classes are free and open to anyone in the community!
For more information, contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 522-3269.
Sources: “Eat Smart. Spend Smart.” blog written by Jody Gatewood, RD, Assistant state nutrition programs specialist, Iowa State University Cooperative Extension; January 23, 2013. “Cleaning the Kitchen Cupboard: Toss or Save?” by Alice Henneman and Joyce Jensen, University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension Service.
Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.
Ramen Noodle Skillet
2 teaspoons vegetable or olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
1 carrot, chopped or sliced thinly
2 cups broccoli stir fry vegetable mixture, thawed and drained
2 cups cooked meat or poultry cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup water
1 (3-oz.) package beef-flavored ramen noodles, broken into pieces
Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and carrots and sauté until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the broccoli mixture and cooked meat to the skillet. Stir and heat (about 1-2 minutes). Add the noodle seasonings to the water and stir into the pan. When the water simmers, add the ramen noodles to the skillet. Stir to moisten the noodles. Cover the skillet and cook until done (about 2 minutes).
Yield: 4 (1 3⁄4 cup) servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 380 calories; 16 g total fat; 6 g saturated fat; 1 g trans fat; 100 mg cholesterol; 210 mg sodium; 21 g total carbohydrate; 3 g dietary fiber; 2 g sugar; 35 g protein; 60% Daily Value of vitamin A; 20% Daily Value of vitamin C; 4% Daily Value of calcium; 20% Daily Value of iron
Big Blue Burger Bake
1⁄2 pound lean ground beef
1⁄2 medium onion, chopped
1 1⁄4 cups skim milk
1 cup baking mix (reduced fat, if available)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 green bell pepper, cut into rings
2 tomatoes, sliced
1⁄2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Heat oven to 400 ̊F. Grease pie plate or square baking dish. Brown ground beef and onion in skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally’ drain. Spread in baking dish. Beat milk, eggs, baking mix, salt, and pepper with fork for one minute or until smooth. Pour over ground beef mixture. Bake for 25 minutes. Arrange pepper rings and tomato slices on top; sprinkle with cheese. Continue baking for 5 to 8 more minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool at least ten minutes before serving.
Yield: 6-8 servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 200 calories; 8 g total fat; 108 mg cholesterol; 646 mg sodium; 15 g protein
Glazed Butternut Squash
2 butternut squash (about 3 pounds)
1/2 cup apple juice
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons margarine
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 teaspoon dried sage
Peel and cut squash in half and remove seeds. Cut into 2-inch pieces. In a large skillet, stir together squash, juice, water, margarine, sugar, salt, and black pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove lid and cook 5 minutes or until liquid thickens and squash is tender. Gently stir in pecans and sage.
Yield: 4 (3/4 cup) servings
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 280 calories; 11 g total fat; 1.5 g saturated fat; 650 mg sodium; 48 g total carbohydrate; 8 g dietary fiber; 14 g sugar; 4 g protein; 730% Daily Value of vitamin A; 120% Daily Value of vitamin C; 15% Daily Value of calcium; 15% Daily Value of iron