Because Wildtree products have no preservatives and chemicals, I am frequently asked how long they last. This invariably leads to a discussion about freshness and ‘best by’ dates as well as how spices don’t necessarily go bad, although the flavors can fade with time (so the garlic may be less garlicky, and the jalapeno have less of a bite, etc). One thing I point out to customers is that most spice jars on the store shelves do NOT have expiration dates (or even production dates) on them, so we honestly don’t know if that store bottle of Garlic Powder on the shelf has been sitting there for 2 weeks or 20 years. With Wildtree, because we produce our own products in small batches, we know it’s ultra fresh. AND, we put ‘best by’ dates on our jars and bottles. That makes me feel good!
But what about when it’s NOT Wildtree? What do ‘best by’ dates really mean? And what about those products in our pantry that we bought at the grocery store weeks, months, or years ago, that don’t have dates? Research tells us that food marked with dates is more so that products can be eaten in their ‘prime,’ with taste more of a factor than health. But what about those of us who want taste AND health? When is it no longer safe to eat?
According to the Institute of Food Technologists, canned food can last for a VERY long time. The Journal of Food Science did a study about a 40 year old can of corn that was opened to study. They reported that it looked and smelled similar to it’s newer counterpart, and still retained most of its nutritional value. In reality, the only expiration dates controlled by the government are those on baby formula and baby food. While you may not need to follow other product dates strictly, NEVER feed a baby expired food or formula. Meanwhile, whether your goal is to practice safe food storage, or just eat healthier, here are some guidelines to potential hazards in your pantry:
**According to “Still Tasty,” (a shelf life guide), eggs can be safely eaten past the expiration date, as they typically last 3-5 weeks beyond purchase. And they are safe to freeze if you want to keep them longer.
**Tomato sauce (unopened) can last up to a year past its stamped date. If opened, it should be refrigerated for a maximum of 10 days. However, if you see mold, throw the entire jar away.
**Don’t keep opened canned goods in the fridge. Store them in a food safe storage container OTHER than the tin can, as the acidic content of the products (such as tomatoes, fruit juice, etc) can transfer the metal into the food and it will have a metallic taste. High tin concentration can cause fever, nausea, and diarrhea.
**Harvard School of Public Health showed that consuming canned soup over 5 days increased the concentration of toxic BPA in the lining of the cans. This reportedly can cause disruptions in the endocrine system such as weight gain and liver damage.
**Leftovers should not be stored in the fridge (per FoodSafety.gov) longer than 4 days to prevent food-bourne illnesses. Longer storage can put you at risk for food poisoning (including upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea).
**Perishable food that has been left at room temperature for over 2 hours may begin to grow bacteria and is no longer safe to eat. So be careful of leaving that party buffet of dips and munchies set up for hours so that ‘people can continue to pick at it.’ If you leave your doggie bag from the restaurant in the car while you go to the movies or leave your leftover lunch bag on your desk until you leave work at 5, it’s better to toss it, because the food is no longer safe to eat.
**Food exposed to temperatures higher than 90 degrees (such as an outdoor cookout) lasts less than an hour! So eat quickly, and don’t leave extras out for the latecomers- refrigerate them promptly and reheat them later if need be.
Speaking of food going bad….what’s the true scoop on mold? We hear it said that mold is what created penicillin, and that cheese is created by a form of mold, so logcally, cutting off a little corner of food that is mildewed must be ok. NOT SO! Mold penetrates DEEP below the surface, especially on soft items like fruits and veggies. There are ‘root threads’ inside which spreads the poisons where you can’t see them, so it is best to be safe and throw the entire item away. Mold spores can even be spread by air circulation systems in the refrigerator (and I know we all hate to clean the refrigerator), but you might want to weed through those mystery packages in the fridge sooner rather than later! If you wait until you have to chase down that funny smell, your family may already be breathing in mold every time you open the door.
So, rule of thumb….keep it fresh, and keep it safe!