Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year New Food | Washington Times Communities

New Year, New Fridge

It’s 2010 and it’s time to clean out your refrigerator, cupboards, spice cabinet and pantry. In the dark corner hides the ketchup bottle that has resided there since 2002. Today it’s your day to throw it away. Some things seem like they can last forever but this just isn’t true. Everything has an expiration date and it’s your job to keep you and your family safe from the food borne illness also known as food poisoning that lies within.

Sad, but true, many people get food poisoning right from their own home. It’s easy to be in a rush, grab a condiment from your fridge, and spread it between two pieces of bread and go. Hours later you have an upset stomach and are clueless as to where it came from.

The way this can happen is if:

  • You believe that some foods are good forever
  • You’re just too lazy to clean out your kitchen
  • Or you buy multiples of one item keep them all in the fridge or pantry together and then hastily grab the wrong one.

Start the year off right and make it a priority to clean out your jars, cans, bottles and anything else that has been collecting dust. Check everything by look, smell, taste and date. If you aren’t willing to do any of these things, than throw all questionable items away.

I am as guilty as the rest of you. I open a jar; use half of whatever it is and place the rest back in the fridge for another day. Sadly, sometimes that day never comes and before I know it I have three boxes of half-used chicken stock on my refrigerator shelf. Even worse, I have no clue which is the oldest or newest one. Thankfully, my nose and taste buds are highly trained.With a quick sniff and then a small taste,I can typically decipher if it stays or goes. However, for the average Joe this can be tricky.

A few basic tips for opened food-

  • Never leave food in an open can in the refrigerator.
  • Check the date and if it is more than a few weeks past, throw it out.
  • If there is no date on the can reopen the opened container and look for-
    • Bad odor
    • Mold
    • Or discoloration
    • If none of these appear than taste it. If it still tastes good than it is probably still ok.
  • If it fails any one of the above tests, throw it away.

Did you know after a year your spices start to lose flavor and pretty soon after that they won’t have any flavor at all. Things like cumin, turmeric and cayenne take longer to lose their flavor but eventually they do. They won’t have the same kick as they had when you first bought them but they will still be good. Especially if you bought one of those handy dandy spice racks that came pre-filled with spices, you never know how long those sat on the store shelves. You don’t have to get rid of the bottles but please get rid of the herbs and spices. You can refill them after you rinse and dry them properly. Be aware that spices can be pricey, so buy the ones you use most first.

Frequently Used Spices

    • Chili pepper- for chilies
    • Herbs of Provence- fish and chicken
    • Celery salt- salads
    • Curry- chicken curry or curried chicken salad
    • Cayenne
    • Bay leaf- soups
    • Oregano- salads or tomato sauces
    • Cumin- chilies

After you’ve cleaned out your kitchen, it’s time to restock. Focus on grocery shopping three to four days for fresh ingredients and buy for the month for canned and jarred foods. It may make it easier to buy your canned foods on a day where you are not in a hurry, that way you don’t miss anything and you can really figure out what you need to buy.

*If you begin to notice that some things are not being finished, make a note so that next time when you grocery shop you buy a smaller portion or size. By buying smaller quantities you can save money and prevent waste. Don’t forget that when you throw away food you are really throwing away money.

Once you get it home, store it and label it properly so that you maintain good health. By labeling everything you take the guessing out of the equation.

In the restaurant world, whenever you enter the walk-in (refrigerator) you’re taught to always take a roll of masking tape and a sharpie with you. These can help you label everything (what it is, the made date and the throw away date). That way, no matter who’s cooking, everyone knows exactly what’s going on in the refrigerator.

You can use this same idea in your home. Write the date you opened it and the date you should throw it away. With the food clearly marked, you know to either cook it or get rid of it.

Here’s a cheat sheet on how long things can stay fresh in the refrigerator –

Opened condiments (ketchup, mayo, mustard, etc.): 1-2 months (on the cautious side)

Jarred Items (red peppers in oil, olives, pickles, artichoke hearts): 1-2 weeks

Cooked Meats: 4 days max

Raw meats: 3-6 days

Raw Fish: 2-3 days

Cooked Fish: 2 Days

Sliced Lunch Meat: 3-4 days

Cooked, Hard-boiled Eggs: 4 days

Raw Eggs: 2 weeks

Raw Vegetables: Around 10 days

Cooked Vegetables: up to 4 days

Lettuces: 4-5 days

Cooked Foods: 3-4 Days

Butter: 2-3 months

(Frozen foods: 1-3 month)

*If for some reason you happen to open multiples of one item, stack them so the one with the furthest date is behind the one with the closest date. So if you’re in a hurry and reach for one of the cartons of milk, you will hopefully grab the one that will expire first.

Your kitchen is your safety zone; you shouldn’t have to worry about getting food poisoning from your expired foods. Why not stay away from canned and processed foods all together and focus more on fresh whole foods. Stock your fridge with fresh vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, whole grains and sweet fruits. You should make your kitchen a place where you feel comfortable and if you shouldn’t eat it don’t keep it. Start off your year with a labeled, organized and safe kitchen.

Read More at my column- The Washington Times Communities Hail Mary Food of Grace

New Year New Food | Washington Times Communities