Time for spring cleaning or what I call “clean out the junk” time of year. And that goes for the food in my kitchen. I need to make a better effort to use the food I have on hand before I set out to stock up on more.
I must not be alone. According to a report by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, about 40 percent of all edible food produced in America goes uneaten, often because we hang on to it too long. And before we blame it on restaurants and grocery stores, a big part of good food that gets tossed happens at home. In fact, experts estimate that the average family of four throws away approximately $1,484 worth of food and beverages each year.
And sometimes we throw out perfectly good food too soon because we are confused about what the dates on food labels really mean. This can cause us to waste billions of pounds of food every year, says Bob Brackett, Director of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Understand these dates, he advises, and we can better judge how to use our food:
“Sell by” is the date by which a store should stop selling a food product. It does not mean the food is unsafe after this date, however. In general, a product still has about a third of its shelf-life remaining after the sell-by date.
“Use-By” tells us the last date that we can expect this food to be at its peak quality. A food eaten after this date will not necessarily make you sick; yet its quality will go down fairly quickly after this date. Infant formulas are the exception, however. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, “Do not buy or use baby formula after its Use-By date.”
“Best-By” refers to the best guess of the last date that this food will be at its ideal or best quality. In the case of salad mixes, for example, some stay great many days after the “Best-By” and others…don’t.
Here’s a game to play when you’re bored. See how many items you can find in your refrigerator and pantry that are close to their “Use by” date. Then use those foods before buying more.
I know a person, for example, who was headed to the store to buy canned beans and tomato sauce for her favorite chili recipe. Because she really didn’t want to go to the trouble for just a couple of items, she checked her cupboard again and found a bag of dried bean soup mix and a small can of tomato paste that had been there quite a while. Voila! A whole new recipe was invented. She’ll let you know how her revamped chili or chili bean soup or whatever she decides to call it, turns out.
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