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Keep It or Pitch It?

People who are cleaning out someone’s home sometimes wonder if a food should be kept or pitched.  The adage “when in doubt, throw it out” applies, but is a shame to actually throw out food that is still edible but past the ‘best if used by’ date.

Wasting Food?

According to A. K. Magoulas and CiCi Williamson, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, August 07, 2014 release: “STOP!  Don’t throw that food away!  It might be safe to use, and that will save you money. According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, each American wastes more than twenty pounds of food every month.  That’s about $115 billion worth of good food thrown away every year at the consumer level in the U.S.  Top food group wasted by value is meat, poultry and fish.”  

“While the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline would never advise you to eat unsafe food, we don’t want you to throw away safe food and lose money.”

Canned Foods

“Dates on cans indicate peak quality as determined by the manufacturer.  So don’t automatically pitch a can with an expired date.  You can safely keep commercially canned foods longer than the dates.  Low-acid foods (such as canned meat, poultry, fish, stew, soups, green vegetables, beans, carrots, corn, peas, potatoes, etc.) can be stored for two to five years; high-acid foods (e.g. canned juices, fruit, pickles, sauerkraut, tomatoes, tomato soup), for 12 – 18 months.”

No Exception

“One date always to observe:  infant formula.  Unlike other foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that infant formula be dated.  Do not feed a baby formula after the use-by date expires due to concern about adequate food value.”

Home Canned Foods

“Home canned foods don’t last quite as long.  USDA recommends using these foods within one year of canning.” 

Dried Foods

Out of date commercially processed dried foods, such as jerky, are safe at room temperature due to their low moisture content and proper heat processing.  Other dry foods (for example, bouillon cubes, gravy mixes, pasta, rice and flour) are safe for a very long time.” 

Frozen Foods

“If it’s frozen, it’s safe to use.  Dates on frozen food are not for safety.  All frozen foods are safe forever because bacteria and other pathogens cannot grow in food that’s frozen at 0 degree F (-17.8 degrees C) or below.  However foods do lose some quality:  flavor, color and texture.  Frozen foods tend to dry out over time, which can result in ‘freezer burn’ especially in areas where air is trapped within the package.” 

Refrigerated Foods

Meats, poultry, fish, dairy, and cooked leftovers should be safe, wholesome and of good quality of handled properly and kept at 40 degrees F (4.4 degrees C) or below and used within USDA recommended times.  Cook or freeze fresh steaks or chops within three to five days; and poultry, ground meats, and fish in one to two days.  All cooked leftovers should be used or frozen after four days.  Use fresh eggs within three to five w3eeks; milk within one week.”

Christeena Haynes Take Aways

According to an article on the site, here are some excerpts from an article written by Christeena Haynes, MS, RD, LD, former Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension: 

  • “Store canned goods in a cool, dark, dry area away from furnaces, pipes and other places where temperature changes occur.  Store metal cans off of the floor because moisture may lead to rust.”
  • “During storage, the minerals in canned foods should remain the same.  Most of the vitamins should have close to the same level as fresh.  Vitamins A and C, however, will decrease quickly during the canning process, but once the product is canned the loss slows to 4 to 20% each year.”
  • “When buying canned foods, choose low sodium or no-salt-added products and choose fruits packed in their own juice or water instead of syrup.” 

If you wonder if something is safe to consume or if it should be tossed, you now have the guidelines.  If you need to permission to toss something, please consider this column your permission to dispose of the food in question.

Girl Questioning fridge contents

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Extension Educator:
Vicki Hayman – (307) 746-3531

University of Wyoming Extension

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Extension Educator:
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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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