Nearly and freshly expired soup

Winter is a great time to eat your way through your pantry, with a keen eye on expiration dates. Last week, I found these products were all nearly expired or freshly expired:

IMG_0120

So I threw all of this into a slow cooker, along with lentils, brown rice, and spices. Wha la! I made many tasty lunches and dinners from food that might have been wasted… had I not searched for expired food in the dark corners of my pantry.

The inspiration for this soup came from a 99% Invisible Podcast called Best Enjoyed By (episode 195).

Use by
Sell by
Best by
Best if used by
Expires on
Forget about it after

What do all these mean? Today, there are no definitions or standards for the freshness labels that we see on our food. Companies can print whatever they like on their products. Also the labels are about freshness, not food safety. Food that is past its freshness date is not necessarily unsafe to eat.

So what should we do? Take a sniff and taste test?

In the end, common sense must prevail. Just as you wouldn’t drink milk that tasted funky (even when not expired), the ‘Best by’ date doesn’t have to mean the ‘Toss date’. At least that’s my thought.

What do you think? Is it safe to eat food past its freshness date?

I found this additional morsel of info on the USDA website:

  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.

 

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4.7 pounds a day

As part of the No Impact Experiment, I moved my kitchen trash can to my garage. My thought was that the extra walk to the garage would heighten my awareness of what we’re throwing away.

Our week’s trash (family of 3):

weekoftrash

Our trash was largely what I thought it would be: Plastic.

We recycled more than usual and continued composting our food scraps. I finally called Allied Waste (my local recycler) to get my recycling questions answered.

What did I learn?

  • No lids whatsoever. In the past I recycled large plastic lids if they had a number on them, but apparently this was wrong (oops!). No lids.
  • Most plastic bags can’t be recycled. Ziploc type bags, food bags, and even bags inside cereal boxes can’t be recycled. This is disappointing. I had hoped that plastic bag recycling had moved beyond shopping and produce bags, but it hasn’t. Since I can’t recycle most plastic bags, I try to avoid them or reuse them.
  • Shredded paper can be recycled if put in a transparent plastic bag and tied at the top. This differs from a neighboring city which has you put shredded paper in a paper bag with your yard waste.

Every city has it’s own rules and regs, so it’s best to contact your local recycling company and get your questions answered.

Since so much plastic can’t be recycled, I’ve reduced the amount of plastic that I buy. Beth over at Fake Plastic Fish has lots of ideas on how you can avoid buying plastic. Beth tracks her plastic waste on a monthly basis (4.7 ounces this month). It’s remarkable how little plastic she wastes.

Our trash can is still in the garage. I’m thinking I might put a tiny trash recepticle under the kitchen sink. However, I rather enjoy hearing my daughter explain to guests why there’s no trash can in the kitchen.

The average American throws away 4.7 pounds of trash a day.

I’m working to be below average in this department.

How about you?

Food Waste: Greens revival

It’s Food Waste Friday once again. Time to document the food I wasted this week, so that I can work to reduce my food waste.

Why do such a silly thing? Because I like silliness. And because what you focus on improves, and I’m interested in reducing my food waste. 

Food wasted this week: 

foodwaste18

This week I wasted some leftover Indian takeout, some broccoli and some wilted chard. I’m currently trying to perk up some chard using a revival technique I found on Farm Fresh to You.

Submerge the wilted greens in cold water by placing them in a dish, filling it with water, and putting it in the refrigerator overnight. The next day the greens will be revived.

Greens revival? Sounds good to me.

To avoid broccoli waste in the future, I can blanch the broccoli and freeze the results for stir-fries. Blanching is great for vegetables like asparagus, green beans, spinach, cauliflower and broccoli. All too often I forget about using my friend Mr. Freezer when I have too much produce.

What are your strategies for reducing food waste?

Food Waste: Game on!

Kristen from The Frugal Girl is back from vacation and Food Waste Friday is back on again. Game on! (Wayne’s World voices) It’s time for me to see what I wasted this week.

foodwaste17
Extreme Close-up

I wasted a bounty of broccoli and a red pepper that looks alright, but tasted mold-like (bleech – you know ‘that grossed out feeling, like you have slugs in your mouth’).

Why account for food waste? Americans typically waste 25% to 35% of the food they purchase, and I’m trying to be atypical (I’m a classic middle child). Documenting my weekly food waste, helps with my tendency to overbuy and forget about food at the back of my fridge.

While writing about slimy cucumbers this week I pondered the temperature of my fridge. My fridge was set to 38 degrees, which most web sites say is safe and appropriate. However, most sites suggest you can go as high as 40 or 41.

Setting your refrigerator between 37°F and 40°F will keep your food stored at a safe temperature without wasting energy. The optimal temperature for your freezer is 0-5°F.

So I changed my fridge temperature to 41. My freezer which was set to -4°, is now set to 2°F.

These small changes may not deter food waste, but should have an impact on my energy consumption.

Have a food waste reduction (FWR) tip? Leave your wisdom in a comment.

Slimy cucumbers

cukes

I recently saved a slimy cucumber from a trip to the compost pile. I bravely peeled away the slime, ate the parts that weren’t soft and lived to tell the tale.

Since this fateful day I’ve discovered that slimy cucumbers are topical. My blogging software tells me what people search on to find my site. Here are a few slimy cucumbers searches:

ok to eat slimy cucumbers
is a slimy cucumber still good?
slimy cucumbers ok to eat?
cucumbers that are slimy good
can i use cucumbers if they are slimy

So let me set the record straight. Motivated by my efforts to not waste food, I found slimy cucumbers are OK to eat. Just peel away the slime and eat away.

How to store cucumbers

Most sites I stumbled upon suggested storing cucumbers unwashed in a plastic bag. Cukes don’t enjoy intense cold, so most sites suggested tucking them into a fridge drawer. Moisture causes cukes to get slimy, so one site suggested pricking the plastic bag 5 or 6 times and lining the drawer with a towel. Most fresh veggies are high maintenance – they need a little air, but also need to be covered.

One idea I want to try – ditch the plastic produce bag and store cucumbers in a cotten produce bag. This may stop the slime once and for all. Or maybe this style of reusable produce bags would be better (posted on Sorta Crunchy):

reusableproducebag
Love for Earth bags on Etsy.com

StillTasty.com sayz cucumbers should keep for a week in the fridge. The slimy cucumber I ate probably sat for two weeks in my fridge. Oops.

How about you? Do you eat food on the edge or play it safe? How do you store your cukes?

frugality

Food waste: Another week, another pile

It’s Food Waste Friday once again. Started by The Frugal Girl (Kristen) in March of 2008, Food Waste Friday takes aim at reducing food waste.

Why do such a silly thing? Motivations may vary, but my primary motivation is creating less trash. And, I’ve also saved money. Ka-ching! I’m buying less food, eating leftovers, and digging into my pantry foods before they expire. Imagine that.

Here’s what I have this week: 

foodwaste16

Homemade tomato sauce– Too much: This last bit went to waste. 
Chicken bits– Always too much: Not enough carnivores in the house.  
Yellow pepperToo risky: Touched the old chicken bits.

Beets–  Forgotten: I baked beets in advance for salads and then forgot about them. 

Not bad. No fruit waste this week. Yay!

Want to reduce your food waste? Just follow this simple rule: If you buy it, eat it.

That is, if the it is food. Otherwise, as Gilda Radner’s character would say… never mind.

Have a fantastic Labor Day.

Video clip of Emily Litella (Gilda Radner) – Violins on TV

Food waste: Not my best

It’s Friday. Time for me to reflect on my food waste this week.

This week is definitely not one of my better weeks. It’s unusual for me to waste dairy or even fake dairy.

foodwaste15

Soy milk– Oops: Forgot about this 1/4 carton.
Yogurt– Too much: Abandoned in the fridge past its expiration date.
Oranges– Not so good: I got these a while back on sale and they weren’t very good. Should have fed them to my juicer.
Carrots– Too much: My kids like baby carrots, but not the big ones.
CantaloupeLow demand: CSA box item. I’m the only cantaloupe eater in the house and I’m not a huge fan. If I cut up a cantaloupe and store it ready to eat, then I’m less likely to waste it.

Why so much concern about food waste? Food biodegrades right? Yes, but there’s an environmental impact to wasting food.

When food rots it releases methane, which is 20 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide (CO2). Our landfills account for 34% of methane emissions in the US. The other equally large methane source is enteric fermentation (mammal gas).

There are many eye-opening statistics on the cost of wasting food. This one is from LoveFoodHateWaste.com:

If we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 5 cars off the road.

Wow.

My food waste created a fair amount of methane gas this week, but there’s the possiblity of doing better next week.

How do you reduce your food waste? Share your wisdom/experience in a Comment.