I like to consider myself part scientist, part conservationist, and part crazy person. I love food- everything about it. Buying it, storing it, hoarding it (because I am a Jewish mom and you never know when 20 people are coming for dinner), preparing it, eating it. But one thing I do not do is waste it. Most of the time my food is long gone before the expiration date hits, but I confess… that sometimes I push the boundaries of what normal people probably call “food safety”… sometimes by choice, mostly by accident 🙂
Why Should You Care?
Nobody wastes food on purpose, but for some it’s easier to “throw it out, when in doubt.” Like knowing about your credit, knowing your food doesn’t have to be scary! Read on to learn how to save time, money and the environment by educating yourself in the kitchen.
In my career handling food waste, I’ve learned some thangs:
- Produce at the market is always under-ripe. People do not buy perfectly ripe fruit (do you ever go to the market to buy 5 bananas that you plan to eat that day? Didn’t think so.)
- The perfectly ripe produce gets pulled from the shelves and is sent to the prepared foods section (aka “culling” and hopefully not the trash). That fruit salad you just paid 3 times more = the cantaloupe with the dent in it that got chopped up
- People don’t buy items close to the date on the package, and usually read these dates wrong! An estimated 25% of food that Americans purchase ends up in the trash! Bye money. Which leads me to my first tip…
Don’t Be Scared of Label Dates
Dates vs. Spoilage: dates are more like suggestions than hard countdowns. Your food will not automatically self-destruct when the date hits. Food lasts depending on how long you leave it out, how cold your fridge is and label type (see chart).
Use your senses: if it smells weird, feels slimy (and normally isn’t) or you can visibly see color changes or mold– don’t eat it. Be especially careful of the furry ones or anything gray/red.
Tomatoes vs. Tomahtos: Food that has spoiled is not the same as food that is contaminated! Spoilage comes with time; contamination is from touch and can happen anywhere from when it was grown to when you touch it.
Will you get sick: you are more likely to get sick from food-borne disease than from the food itself being old. In the words of my man Alton Brown: “contaminated food will make you sick, but spoiled foods won’t necessarily make you sick.” Preach.
Bottom line: Don’t leave food out and keep it clean i.e don’t eat from the containers. If there’s a small bit of mold- cut that area out. If the whole thing looks sketchy, toss it.
Not sure if your food is ok to eat and don’t want to find out? Leave it to the professionals and donate your unopened food to a food bank near you 🙂
Pretty Charts For Lazy People
Sure you could google this yourself, but that would be too much work so I did it for you.
Want To Learn More?
If you’re really paranoid and have time to waste, you can check out the USDA Food Product Dating Guidelines and learn more about molds! Or click here for some of the EPA’s tips on reducing food waste.
And if you want to know more specifics on suggested dates for things like sausages and tortillas, check out this awesome guide from the Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.