Do you know how to tell when your food is still fresh, or when it’s time to toss it? No, those condiments and other food products in your refrigerator and freezer do not last forever. The end of the year is a good time to remind yourself to purge any items that may be well past their prime. The easiest way of doing this is to look at expiry labels, but in the US the FDA does not require manufacturerer’s to place  an “expired by”, “use by” or “best before” date on food products other than baby formulas. In the UK labels are required, but the terms will be changing to help prevent the massive quantities of perfectly good food going to waste.

Julie Anne Rhodes

Julie Anne Rhodes on Friday Food Tips

It’s always a good idea to look for the following labels, and in their absence be sure to look for any signs (discoloration, change in texture, curdling, organisms growing on the food, any noxious odors, and last – unpleasant flavor) unlabeled food may have turned, or “gone off.” Personally, if I am unsure I toss it rather than risk food poisoning, but why waste perfectly good food if you see no signs indicating that you should? I would not, however, serve any food in question to young children or the elderly, since they’re systems are more vulnerable. To avoid confusion – look for those expiry dates, and here is a guide to the labeling terms:

Sell by or expired by: means the store should sell the item by that date, and it’s shelf life in your refrigerator might be shorter. In the US they are legally able to sell past the expiry date, so be sure to check labels whenever possible. This does not necessarily mean the food is unsafe, you should have 2-3 days after the sell by date that it is perfectly edible, but exercise caution. They are phasing this term out in England to cut back on wastage. People get confused by the terms, and throw away perfectly good food, so only the following terms will be used…

Learn to cool and package food properly, and be sure to label with the date you prepared and froze it
Cool and package food properly, then be sure to label with the date you prepared and freeze it

Use By: means food may be unsafe after the date shown. Foods that you need to be especially careful about include meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, and ready made meals.

Best before: means the product is past it’s prime after the date shown, but still edible. This would include foods like crackers, potato chips, bread, cookies, jams, pickles, potato chips and canned foods.

A well stocked PCA™ fridge

A well stocked PCA™ fridge

One enormous advantage of the Personal Chef Approach™ is that you “waste not, want not.” You save so much money  when you buy only the food you need for the week ahead, and cook it all up in advance. Freezing prepared food (cooled and packaged properly) that you do not intend to eat right away will preserve the original integrity of it’s flavor in addition to prolonging it’s shelf life, but not indefinitely, so if freezing – add a label with the date the food was frozen, and follow safe food guidelines for frozen food. How do you plan to save money and waste less food in 2014?

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