Help Re­duce Food Waste

Riverbank News - - THE RIVERBANK NEWS -

Do you freeze foods well be­fore the ex­pi­ra­tion date? Check the milk to make sure it will last the week? Throw out items the mo­ment they pass over the stamped dead­line? If so, you may be do­ing so un­nec­es­sar­ily and even con­tribut­ing to the vast food waste prob­lem across the world.

The Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the United Na­tions says ap­prox­i­mately one-third of the food pro­duced in the world for hu­man con­sump­tion every year, which amounts to 1.3 bil­lion tons, gets lost or wasted. The or­ga­ni­za­tion says con­sumers in rich coun­tries waste al­most as much food as the en­tire net food pro­duc­tion of sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa.

It is im­por­tant to note that the dates on var­i­ous food and bev­er­age items may mean dif­fer­ent things, and not all of them are strict ‘ex­pi­ra­tion dates’ re­quir­ing foods to be dis­carded. The United States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture states that food ex­pi­ra­tion dates are pro­tect­ing food qual­ity, not food safety. In fact, U.S. reg­u­la­tions do not re­quire that ex­pi­ra­tion dates be put on meat, poul­try, eggs, dairy, cans, and boxed foods. Baby for­mula is the only prod­uct that re­quires an ex­pi­ra­tion date on its pack­ag­ing.

Rather, dates fea­tured on foods are typ­i­cally ‘sell- by’ and ‘use-by’ dates. The sell-by date refers to how long the store has to dis­play the prod- uct. It is im­por­tant to note that this date is es­sen­tially a guide for the re­tailer, so the store knows when to pull the item off the shelf. Fur­ther­more, pulling the food is not manda­tory in all states.

The use-by date or best-by date is an ar­bi­trary date by which the man­u­fac­turer thinks the prod­uct will start to fall below its peak qual­ity, states Busi­ness In­sider. Prior to the useby date, items will have the most fla­vor and tex­ture or qual­ity. This does not mean that the item be­comes any less safe af­ter the date.

The ‘pack’ or ‘born on’ date refers to when the prod­uct was pack­aged. It may be used for beer, which can go bad from sun­light af­ter just a few months, or other per­ish­able foods.

A re­port from the Nat­u­ral Re­source De­fense Coun­cil and Har­vard Law School’s Food Law and Pol­icy Clinic says more than 90 per­cent of Amer­i­cans throw out food pre­ma­turely, and 40 per­cent of the U.S. food sup­ply goes un­eaten every year be­cause of food dat­ing.

So how does one avoid get­ting sick but con­serve food re­sources? By fol­low­ing th­ese guide­lines.

Eggs can be con­sumed three to five weeks af­ter pur­chase. Many non­per­ish­able boxed or canned foods can still be en­joyed well be­yond the stamped date with no no­tice­able changes in qual­ity.

Soft cheeses and dairy prod­ucts gen­er­ally can last one week past the sell-by date and still be palat­able. Poul­try or seafood should be frozen or cooked within a day or two of its sell-by stamp. Ground meats should be used within two days of pur­chase be­cause bac­te­ria on the sur­face of the meat can be mixed through­out the meat dur­ing grind­ing.

Highly acidic canned foods will last a lit­tle more than a year, while low-acid foods are usu­ally good for up to five years, say the nu­tri­tion ex­perts at Texas A&M Univer­sity.

Any foods that smell bad, have vis­i­ble mold growth or seem to have a strange tex­ture should be avoided, even if the date sug­gests they are fine. Use com­mon sense when de­ter­min­ing which foods are safe to eat.

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