When I first started to work in the food industry, everything was Julian dated so the customer had no idea how to figure out the age of the products. I had a wallet-sized chart with the decoding of Julian so I knew and remember using it a lot.
The expiration dates are a voluntary system from the manufacturers and the only regulated items required to have expiration dates are infant formula and some baby food. Federal laws do not have restrictions on any other food.
I started to wonder about folks who stored away emergency food as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends that the emergency supply of water is one gallon per person per day for three days, for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene. Most bottled waters are dated for two years from the date of bottling, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration puts no limit on the shelf life of bottled water.
Even so, there are some precautions on bottled water:
• Do not expose the case to direct sunlight or a heat source.
• Plastic containers are slightly permeable, which allows ambient air gases such as vapors from household solvents, petroleum-based fuels and other chemicals to affect the taste and odor. Hence, when storing your bottled water for emergencies, you should not store it next to any fuel with a smell.
Today, most foods are labeled with either the following:
• “Sell by” date helps the retailer know when to pull the item off the shelf and is the last day the quality of the product is guaranteed.
• “Best if used by” date again has to do with the quality of the product and for the best flavor.
• A relatively new term that has been used for beer is “born on date.” Beer after three months starts to lose some of its flavor.
• “Guarantee fresh” date usually is on bakery products.
• “Use by” date is the last date recommended for the product to be at its peak quality.
• “Pack date” is usually on canned or packaged goods.
Further, you should look at the dating on different products, especially perishable ones. Milk is usually fine to drink after a week of its “sell by” date. Of course, you can smell to check if it has gone sour, too.
Eggs are fine in the refrigerator, preferably left in their cartons for three to five weeks after you buy them from the market. I experienced eggs left in the refrigerator for a long time and the yolk structure changed and looked a little shriveled and dry. I would not recommend eating an egg that old.
I have had to throw away canned goods showing signs of aging. Highly acidic foods such as anything tomato-based should be kept for only 1 1/2 years. Most other foods such as canned green beans, as long as the can looks OK, are good for five years. With our Hilo humidity, however, it could speed up deterioration of the can as well as the place it was stored. A dry, dark place that is 50-70 degrees is best.
If you have leftovers in your refrigerator more than 4 days old, you should get rid of them.
Freezing foods makes them last indefinitely; however, with time, their quality and taste diminishes. I am guilty of having my freezer packed with “stuff” I planned to use, but some of them are past their optimum time. Chicken is good in the freezer for up to nine months, fish in a vacuum-sealed bag for eight months, ground meat for four months and a steak for one year. It seems the prepared foods such as hot dogs and sausages don’t last long and are good for just two months. Yeast rolls will start drying out after three months and bread is good for only one month in the freezer.
I have a bunch of packages of nuts in the bottom shelf of my freezer I purchased in huge quantities to use for baking. The unsalted nuts last for one year and, interestingly, the salted ones will start diminishing in flavor after eight months.
When butter, mostly unsalted, is on sale, I buy at least four pounds. It lasts about nine months, which is not a problem because I use it up quickly as I bake a lot.
Cleaning out your freezer at least once a year would save you from throwing away food you forgot about. I will promise to clean mine very soon.
If your refrigerated foods aren’t lasting very long, check the temperature in your refrigerator. The most perishable, fish, should be kept at 32 degree, and the next most perishable, milk, at least at 38 degrees. Unfortunately, most refrigerator temperatures are at 40 degrees or warmer.
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