Another type of date you'll find on products is the 'sell by' date. Dairy and eggs are two products that have this. This date assumes you'll take a little longer to actually eat the food, so the 'sell by' date is about a week earlier than the 'best by' date.
Higher-fat items go rancid sooner. Watch for that. How can you tell if it, or anything else has passed its useful life? Smell it. Your eyes, nose, and tongue can tell you a lot. Use common sense; if it smells bad or has gone moldy or foamy, there's no need to taste!! And if you are feeding people with low immune systems, err on the side of caution.
If a can squirts at you when you open it, that can be an indication of botulism growth. Boil the contents for 10 minutes. If food has started eating through the can, well, I wouldn't eat it unless I was starving. Even then, I might not. But the sealed Mason jar of peaches from ten years ago that you just found at the back of a shelf? Yeah, they've turned an interesting peachy-brown. Puree them and use as the liquid in a cake, make a smoothie, or some other creative use. Is ten years old ideal? No, of course not. You'll get better nutrition if you're rotating the food more often than that. But older food is still... food. Use it.
Cutting Food Waste at Home
My #1 tip! Before you cook dinner, look in the fruit basket, crisper drawer, fridge shelves, or freezer to see what needs used up first. Use that in your meal. Be creative if you have to.
· My #2 tip! Don’t waste what’s on your plate. If you have small children, serve them very small servings (a couple of bites) of just a couple foods. Use a small plate. They only get seconds on anything after the firsts are eaten. As my kids hear, “Firsts of everything before seconds of anything.” They can learn to eat everything on their plate if the servings are small enough. When they’re older, progress in the teaching by letting them learn to serve themselves small/reasonable portions. If they have leftover food (either at home or eating out), SAVE it for the next meal; they “get to” eat that before any new food.
· Freeze leftovers. You get instant dinners for later!
· Use leftovers as a ‘variety pack’ meal: put all the leftovers on the table, and let everyone choose which they like best. Or pack them for take-to-work (or school) lunches.
· Keep a bag in the freezer for celery tops, mushroom stems, bits of raw or cooked meat, leftover oatmeal, whatever odds and ends you have. When the bag is full, make it into soup.
· When you have heels or crusts of bread, leftover toast, or stale bread, add it to a bag in the freezer. Use it when you need breadcrumbs, or to make bread pudding, poultry stuffing, or bread salad. I also save the breadcrumbs from when I slice homemade bread.
· Trim away bad spots, eat the rest. Brown edges on lettuce can be trimmed away, same with black on cabbage, mold on apples or strawberries, etc.
· Chop shriveled apples or other fruit and mix them into muffin batter. Or make smoothies. Find some way to use the food where looks don’t matter.
· Freeze overripe bananas to use in recipes and smoothies. For simplicity's sake, peel before freezing.
· when you have so much of something that it will spoil before you can use it all, freeze it, dry it, or bottle it.
· Moldy cheese? Trim off the mold, use the rest or shred and freeze it.
For other ways to save money on food, see the post from Feb. 3, 2011.
When should you throw out food?
My general guidelines are to throw it out if it is:
-foaming (unless it's bread dough or batter, or if you're fermenting something intentionally),
-molding (except for cheese, and small bits on fruit or vegetables),
-developing unusual colors, or
Learning how to tell when food is still good can really help out your budget. We waste huge amounts of food here in the US, the average family of four throws away just under $600 in food AT HOME per year! (See http://uanews.org/node/10448) And total food waste, from the field to your stomach, runs between 40-50%. Really.
This higher number includes the following steps:
· consumption (restaurants/schools/home waste)
As a side note, so you don't think the US should be singled out for condemnation, total waste percentages are about the same in undeveloped countries- but they lose more between the field and the store, and less at home. (See http://www.siwi.org/documents/Resources/Policy_Briefs/PB_From_Filed_to_Fork_2008.pdf, pages 18-23)