Category Archives: Food safety

How long does milk last? Until the expiration date?

There seems to be a lot of confusion about how long milk (cow’s, soy, almond, etc.) will last in the refrigerator once it is opened.  Before you whip out the usual argument that you’ve had milk in the refrigerator for two, three, or whatever weeks and survived to tell the tale, let me remind you that you are in fact worth more than the $3.50 or so you paid for your beverage.

I opened this today, 3/27/16. It won't be good until that expiration date listed above. A Sharpie keeps me informed.

I opened this today, 3/27/16. It won’t still be good on 4/18, the expiration date listed above. Using a Sharpie allows room to store other things in my head.

That expiration date at the top there reflects…either a sell-by or use-by date. And I couldn’t tell which, because of the three types of milk in the refrigerator, NONE of them distinguish which type of expiration is printed.  The Western Dairy Association says:

  • If properly cared for, milk generally stays fresh two to three days past the “sell by” or “pull-by” dates on milk cartons.

So let’s assume the dates are “sell by” dates.  So we know that unopened, the date on the carton pictured above gives us until 4/20 or so before we need to start using our noggin and moving on to the next carton.  But what about once you’ve opened the carton?

silk milk expire

This is true for cow’s milk too, but you won’t always find it on the label. GRRR.

As you see, milk — soy, almond, or cow — expires 7-10 days from the date you open it.  So get out a Sharpie, keep it in a kitchen drawer, mark up your leftovers and milk with the date you opened them, and don’t drink milk  if it’s 2-3 days after the printed expiration date.  Just don’t.

Go to the bottom of this page for the chart from the FDA showing cow’s milk and other stuff you can store properly so you don’t hurl.

 

Sell by, Best if Used By and other such expiration explained here.

Can a store sell food past the expiration date?  Yep.  Not great practice, but it’s done.  That’s why you should be aware when you shop so you get the freshest food that will last the longest by reaching to the back because of the First In, First Out (FIFO) rule.

Can you use eggs past the expiration date on the carton?

Image

According to the Julian calendar, these eggs were packed February 21, 2014 (the 52nd day of the year) and must be sold by March 22nd. After that, I’d give them about a week.

Yes.

The date on the egg carton is usually a “sell by” date (if it says EXP, that’s an expiration date.  Don’t use them after that).  A “sell by” date means that the eggs are good for a few days past the stamped date.  How long?  They are safe to use for 3-5 weeks from the date of purchase, according to the USDA (if stored correctly, and if kept at proper temperatures before storing).

I prefer the Julian date to determine freshness.  The Julian calendar numbers the days of the year 1-365.  The Julian date appears to the right of the “sell by” date on egg cartons.  Click here to download the Julian calendar for 2014.  I use eggs 3-5 weeks from that date, because eggs degrade over time.  The egg whites become looser with age, and though older eggs will usually bake all right when you’re making cookies and such, it’s best to use fresher eggs for omelettes, scrambles, and soufflés.   Cakes like angel food require very fresh eggs as well, because their structure relies on fresh egg whites.

How can you tell if an egg is still safe to eat, aside from the date?  Put the egg into cold water at the bottom of a saucepan.  A fresh egg will lie on its side at the bottom.  If it’s less fresh, but still all right, it will begin to sit up a bit.  If it floats, it’s compost.  Toss it.

Still need more information about eggs?  Check this out.

 

Is Carrageenan safe? I’m thinking I won’t drink your milkshake after all.

Oh there’s been so much news this summer.

I was preparing my class, and wanted to begin with a commercial that relies on the ignorance of the viewing public for its stance that milk is an all natural product, whereas soy, rice, and almond “milks” are imitations with all kinds of odd ingredients that must be inherently dangerous:

Let me run this down for you quickly.  Riboflavin is a B vitamin, Vitamin A palmitate is added to all cow’s milk and all of its analogs — like soy, almond, etc. Zinc gluconate is zinc, which occurs naturally in animal products and would be added to the analogs (helps with immunity and growth).  Calcium carbonate is calcium in the same form as Tums (cow’s milk is mostly calcium phosphate).  All that stuff just proves that most of America doesn’t know good from bad about what they’re eating.  And now you do.

But what about carrageenan?  Carrageenan is derived from red seaweed and is used as an emulsifier — that is, it brings fat and water together so things like ICE CREAM (made with…ahem, MILK), salad dressing, chocolate milk…and a thickener in stuff like dieting foods and shakes.  That I knew.  I looked it up to see what else might contain the stuff and its safety and was completely surprised by what I found.

Though carrageenan is on the GRAS list, and it’s against the Delaney Clause to knowingly add any substance into food that might cause cancer, carrageenan might not be all that safe (click that link — teratogenic means “cancer causing” and you’ll see that bit at the end about more necessary research).  It puts a lot more General in the Regarded As Safe category.  How did I not know this?

The Cornucopia Institute (again with them!) did a little peeking around and essentially felt the same:

May 2012: The National Organic Standards Board again reviews carrageenan during the Sunset process and will decide whether to continue allowing carrageenan in certified organic foods.

Yeah.  Carrageenan, we didn’t date in high school, but I’m pretty much through with you.  Which means I need to find a new soy milk, (I’m talking to you, Trader Joe’s).  Damn.  A little list to help with the avoidance right here.  It’s not that if it sneaks into the occasional something I feel I might die, but why expose myself to something daily that might not be a good thing?

Hey, Dairy  Council, for the first time EVER, I’m going to say: Thanks!  I’m still not drinking your milk, or your milkshake, though.  It’s a wonder you didn’t bring up the sugar in Imitation Milks (except the unsweetened ones, which taste like Kaopectate), but that would expose the fact that most grown up folks of all nationalities but Northern European have trouble digesting lactose, the sugar in milk.  Too complicated, right?  I hear that.

How can I tell if a fruit or vegetable is organic, or has GMOs?

A woman asked me this as she gazed at my bag of pears a couple of weeks ago.

You can tell by looking at the PLU or Product Look-Up code on that sticker with the Kung-fu grip.  Look for a 4 digit number beginning with the number 3 or 4 if the variety was grown conventionally, and the same number with a 9 in front of it if the variety was grown organically.  For example, the PLU code for a banana is 4011, and an organic one is 94011.

Because it’s voluntary, you never really see it, but if the code begins with an 8, it means it’s genetically modified.  Organically-grown produce cannot be genetically modified so if the prospect of GMOs in your food keeps you up at night, go organic.

Those absurdly sticky stickers are good for another thing: Spotting the country where the produce was grown.  If the produce was grown half a world away, it’s an indication that you are eating something that is out of season in your part of the world.  On the other hand, if you are consuming something that came from closer to home, you will likely pay less for it, and it will likely taste better too, because it will have been picked closer to being ripe.

Now go peel off the stupid things and get eating!

How long does food keep without electricity in the refrigerator and freezer?

I am not a time capsule!

Not as long as you think! The fridge must be maintained at 40°F  or below, the freezer at  0 °F or below.

Here is a helpful quote from your friends at the USDA:

Safe Refrigerator Temperature
For safety, it is important to verify the temperature of the refrigerator. Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature of 40 °F or below. Some refrigerators have built-in thermometers to measure their internal temperature. For those refrigerators without this feature, keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator to monitor the temperature. This can be critical in the event of a power outage. When the power goes back on, if the refrigerator is still 40 °F, the food is safe. Foods held at temperatures above 40 °F for more than 2 hours should not be consumed. Appliance thermometers are specifically designed to provide accuracy at cold temperatures. Be sure refrigerator/freezer doors are closed tightly at all times. Don’t open refrigerator/freezer doors more often than necessary and close them as soon as possible.

So while you’re at the hardware store buying a generator, go ahead and buy a fridge thermometer also.

While it’s expensive to throw away a week’s worth of groceries (or more if you load the freezer like a hoarder/Costco shopper/same thing), it’s a serious expense to endure the effects of foodborne illnesses like Salmonella, etc.  You might miss work or require hospitalization, ya see?

So, as the nutritionist saying goes, When In Doubt, Throw It Out.  There is no cute rhyme that recommends looking at the back of the fridge, eyeballing it, and going ahead anyway because you’ve done it in the past and nothing bad ever happened.  For every kid in my classes who has wiped the green fur off that old basket of strawberries or left yogurt in the bus overnight and lived to tell the tale, there’s a (smart!) friend who ate the leftover 5-day-old chicken burrito and developed a close relationship with the inside of their bathroom overnight.

Helpful links:

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed. (and you can buy dry ice…click link)

Green bags: The fountain of fruit and vegetable youth?

I ran home last night with all my Thanksgiving ingredients, a night earlier than I’d planned to shop because of an early morning appointment, and my entire refrigerator is a sea of Debbie Meyer Green Bags.  The hardest part about Thanksgiving is doing the shopping early enough to avoid being caught in the vast human struggle that is acquiring groceries for the big event, but not so early that the wilted salad with aging cucumbers and overripe tomatoes actually implies that you may wish your family bodily harm.  Enter the miracle bags that could have kept grapes fresh from the Pharaoh’s tomb to the present day.   That might be a slight exaggeration.  But heck, I figure maybe the stuff will make it to Thursday looking like it was plucked from the very ground just minutes before.  And if it all works out, I can thank my mother.  Then Debbie Meyer.

My mother’s gone into late-night sponsor-mode for Green Bags.  She brought some over for us both to try, and gave me about debbie-meyer-greenbags11half of them.  I tossed some grapes, in their protective plastic box, into a green bag.  Frighteningly, they lasted over 3 weeks.  My mother could make major commish on QVC she’s so excited about these bags.  If someone appears to be dying, they could probably be preserved in one until help arrived.

So the Green Bags do appear to work.  But how?  Are they safe?  They claim to be made with a “natural mineral” called “Oya®” – so what the heck is that?  It’s actually a form of mineral called zeolite.  Zeolite, according to my friends at Wikipedia, absorbs gases.  Which means it can absorb the ethylene gases given off by ripening fruits and vegetables.  (Yes, one bad apple will spoil the whole bunch, because it will give off lots of ethylene gas, pushing the rest from ripe to rotten.  Just saying.)  So the bags are sprayed with this stuff, and it absorbs the gases, preventing further ripening/rotting.  Very clever indeed.  You can rinse them, but not wash them with soap, and you can use them up to 8 times according the web site, so I’d recommend putting fruits and veggies in there in their original packaging so that you can reuse the bags without worrying about other microbes that can’t be washed away but that can cause food poisoning.  Also, the bags and produce have to be dry.

All this crazy comes at a price — something on the order of $9.99 for 20 bags.  Great for Thanksgiving, but I’m just going to be honest: I feel better about buying only what we can eat and buying more often than trying to preserve stuff forever.  But if you live alone, and food comes in large supply, this can be mighty helpful and might even save money in the end.  I’m a little hesitant about placing food directly onto this “natural mineral” – so be careful there.

As an alternative, there are also disks you can put into your produce drawer that will last a few months and also slow the path from ripe to rotten.  Here’s a link.

buffetgFor the record, some of the other Debbie Meyer stuff makes me a little nervous, particularly the cold cut bags.  Don’t store cold cuts forever, then eat them, then reuse a bag you stored them in directly without washing it because you can’t use soap.  Just tell Debbie Meyer it makes me nervous and we just can’t have that.

But she is the mastermind behind the hilarious Buffet Genius, and make no mistake about it, I love her for it.

Microbes: Nature’s party crashers

It’s getting hot out there – time to don that Kiss the Cook apron and throw a shrimp on the barbie.

I certainly don’t want to spoil the fun with school-marm rules for safe food handling, but nothing says “I care” quite like following a few easy rules that will keep you (and your guests) from some internal bacterial cha-cha. And you do care. I can feel it.
I’m guessing you’d prefer your guests remember you for your Godlike grilling skillssupergriller, to the rescue! and killer potato salad rather than doing the toilet huddle. So let’s get to it:

  • Before you get the party started, make sure that your refrigerator and freezer are in good working order. The heat of the day (as well as dawdling children who hang out in front of the open fridge) can cause temperature fluctuations, so keep a thermometer posted and make sure it stays at 40 degrees or below. The freezer temperature should be at 0 degrees. If you can’t maintain these temperatures, it might be time for a new refrigerator.
  • When you shop, be sure to check the expiration dates for the foods you purchase, and always wrap trays of meat in plastic bags to avoid leaks onto other foods you may be purchasing (or the grocery clerk’s counter).
  • Bring a cooler bag or ice chest filled with refreezable ice. If you bag your own groceries or request that the clerk put the items for the ice chest in one bag you can quickly pop them in and keep cold foods cold until you get home (this will also keep you from wanting to throttle the aforementioned dawdling children or the person in front of you waiting an eternity to turn left out of the parking lot).
  • According to FDA food safety guidelines, raw hamburger meat will only last 1-2 days in the fridge. After that it’s garbage. No, it really is garbage, there aren’t exceptions to this rule (smell and sight are not indicators of bacterial content), so plan ahead or freeze meat and then thaw it in the fridge, never on the counter, before grilling. Steak, and prepared items like egg salad, however, will last 3-5 days in the fridge, and an opened package of hot dogs will last up to 1 week. For more storage guidelines, check here. Continue reading