Food

Nutrition

What About the Leftovers?

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More than one comedy routine has been developed around the oft-heard kitchen query, “Does this smell okay?” For those with a weak gag reflex, this is no laughing matter.

You know the drill. You open the fridge to forage for something to make for lunch and discover dinner from over a week ago. Since it doesn’t smell too bad, you wonder if it is still usable or just another incidence of food waste. How are you supposed to know whether you can eat leftovers? And, while we are at it, what is the deal with “Best By” and “Use By” dates?

Food waste is a huge problem in the United States. Anyone with a large fridge, as are popular here in America, can attest to hating the chore of cleaning out old and expired foods. Many store-bought products carry a Best by or Use By date stamped on the container, and you may feel nervous about not abiding by that time frame.

It is important to remember, however, that these dates are simply there to let stores know when to remove food from shelves so that consumers are getting the best tasting product. Many items, such as canned and dry foods, are safe to eat long after the expiration date, and using your own senses to tell you whether or not something is still good can decrease your chances of waste. So next time you find yourself wondering if those Girl Scout cookies from a year and a half ago are still tasty, even after the Best By date, you can be your own taste tester.

What about items that aren’t shelf stable?

Products that are not shelf stable, such as meat, eggs, and dairy, also require a Use By date, although this, too may be debatable.  Again, these foods can remain safe to eat even a bit past their Use By date, so make sure you use your own senses of smell and taste to judge for yourself whether a product is still edible.

Many people are concerned with food borne illnesses. However, it is important to know that most food borne illnesses are not the result of natural decay, but more likely a result of contamination. Some food borne illnesses can even be spread by touching surfaces or being infected from another person. Either way, make sure to look at the ancient leftovers in your fridge or the bread that expired a few weeks ago before throwing them away. Check the food for signs of bacteria, mold, or yeast.

Leftovers can last for different periods of time, depending on the food involved in the cooking process as well as other ingredients. Eggs, for example, can spoil sooner because they can harbor a bacteria-friendly environment. Moisture content also has a role to play, as does the amount of sugar or salt involved in the recipe.

If you are concerned with avoiding food waste, you can freeze leftovers instead of refrigerating them, as this stops the aging process of foods. You can also organize your fridge so that things are easy to find, and leftovers are in the front for easy access. It’s the random leftovers that get pushed to the back that tend to cause the problem of the mystery container. The next time you find yourself faced with the question of whether or not something is edible, remember to be your own taste tester.

If this doesn’t work, you can always pull the “hey, does this taste okay?” card … grabbing the closest child or partner and subjecting them to a potential science experiment.

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