Deciding what food is safe to eat and what food should be tossed can be confusing. And the terms that we find…”sell-by,” “best if used by,” only add to the dilemma. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service defines each of the terms as follows:
• A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
• A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
• A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
• “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.
For safety concerns, these dates are more important for perishable foods like meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. It is recommended to use food by the “use-by-date.” Smelling food to determine if it is safe is not always effective. Many bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted. Even if you think the food—such as lunchmeat—smells and looks fine, it is best not to consume after the “use-by” or expiration date. If you want to keep the food longer than that date, freeze it. Milk that has been properly refrigerated (40 degrees F) is safe to consume for one week past the “sell-by” date.
For concerns about canned foods, high-acid foods (such as tomatoes or pineapple) will have the best quality is used within 12 to 18 months. Low-acid foods (such as meat, fish, or vegetables) will retain the best quality if used within 2 to 5 years. These rules apply only if the can remains in good condition and is stored in a cool, clean, dry place. Use the first in, first out method to be sure the oldest cans are used first. When putting away groceries, place the recently purchased items behind the existing food. It is recommended that home-canned foods be used within one year for best quality.
(Source: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Words on Wellness)
The following recipe is an old favorite with a twist. The vegetables add fiber, and vitamins A and C. Be sure to check dates on the canned food items before purchasing or using and look for the terms discussed above.
Sloppy Garden Joes
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped or shredded
1 green pepper, chopped
1 pound ground turkey
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce, low-sodium
1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (8-ounce) can mushroom stems and pieces, drained
¼ cup barbecue sauce
6 whole-wheat buns
1. Rinse and prepare vegetables as indicated. Saute onions, carrots, green pepper and turkey in a pan over medium-high heat for five minutes or until turkey is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
2. Add tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, mushrooms and barbecue sauce. Bring to a boil.
3. Cover pan and cook for about three minutes or until thickened.
4. Serve on toasted or untoasted whole-wheat buns.
5. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours.
Makes six servings. Each serving has 280 calories, 9 g fat, 36 g carbohydrates, 16 g protein, 6 g fiber and 580 mg sodium. A serving provides 70% of the daily recommendations for vitamin A and 60% of the daily recommendations for vitamin C.
(Source: North Dakota State University Extension Service, Food Wise, March 2013)