I was an adult when magical little dates that are often incorrectly called “expiration” dates began appearing on food. I’m shocked that people use these dates to determine whether food is good or not and toss food because it’s gone past a date! I’m even more shocked to hear that some people toss food when it’s nearing a date! It amounts to a huge amount of waste, and forgive me for saying so, because of ignorance.
I use the term ignorance not as an insult, but by definition: “the state or fact of being ignorant: lack of knowledge, education, or awareness.” Believe me, ignorance is NOT bliss! Ignorance is expensive, wasteful and extravagant.
If I come across as seeming harsh in this post, it’s because I’m not a big guy professional food blogger that’s afraid of telling it like it is. I really want to get some of these points across in plain speak and won’t be mincing words. At the same time, I’m guessing that most people who think this is harsh will be those that haven’t educated themselves about all the different dates on food, what they mean, how food goes bad and what the danger is. A lack of understanding of food safety is a dangerous thing!
Let’s Put Food Safety in Perspective:
How important is Food Safety? Let’s put it in perspective. And this might make you wonder “Where’s the public outcry?”
- This 2014 study from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism found that since 1995, there have been tragically 3503 American deaths both in the United States and outside of it due to terror attacks. That’s including the 2,977 victims of 9/11.
- The Center for Disease Control estimates about 3,000 food-related deaths per year, with another 128,000 hospitalizations annually. Too often this doesn’t even reach our awareness other than a newspaper post here or there or the occasional food safety recall that rotates on Facebook or Twitter.
Don’t Toss Out Food by Dates:
I gotta say, first of all just don’t do this. Read on and I’ll go over pretty much anything you might have questions about regarding the dates you’re going to find on food.
- It’s very likely, if you’ve been confused about this, you’ll end up knowing what all those dates mean and how if any (most aren’t) those dates are related to food safety.
- Most of the dates are pretty random and mostly unregulated, and I’ll cover that, too.
If you just can’t wrap your mind around using food past any date stamped on a package, don’t toss it. Donate it to an emergency food shelf, a church or community center that takes donations or another resource in your community. Most are desperate for items and they will be utilized.
There Is No Such Thing As an Expiration Date:
There never has been, there probably will never be an expiration date on foods. meaning the date food is or isn’t good by. Keep in mind that I haven’t personally examined every bit of food sold in the US, obviously 🙂 but I would challenge you to let me know if you have ever seen such a date! Email me a photo. I’ll need to address it!
This single term has scared more people and caused more food waste than any of us can imagine. It needs to be wiped out of our collective usage. What does it mean? Expiration: “the fact of coming to an end or the point at which something ends. the last emission of breath: death“.
- I hate to break it to you but unless we’re talking about certain live cultures or you’re eating the liver out of a live cow or crawling around eating food off a vine, your food is already expired.
- Your food expired at the moment it was killed or plucked from a plant or dug up.
Just to be clear: There is NO such thing as an expiration date. And even if there were, food isn’t good one day and bad the next. The question is then, how long is your dead/expired food good for?
Usually, when someone is talking about an expiration date, they are either confused, ignorant and/or just being a little idiotic, and I can see why. Told ya I wasn’t mincing words!
- Major food publications, newspapers, and magazines or other normally trusted sources often talk about expiration dates. They should know better and some, even as they publish articles explaining there are no expiration dates continue to publish articles where they reference expiration dates.
- I often see food bloggers and organizational bloggers talk about expiration dates and they should know better. I might read on after I see the term but any and all information from that site from that moment on is then examined carefully as to whether or not it is true. The author has already proven that they are an idiot, at least about food safety. That doesn’t mean something else they say is untrue, but doubt has been cast.
- I get particularly irked (can ya tell lol!) when bloggers talk about how to clean and/or organize pantries and advise people to toss out food past the “expiration” date. It’s just crazy and irresponsible and perpetuating a myth and it is doing a great disservice to people who rely on their information. I get crazy mad when I think of people who don’t have a lot of money following that advice and I hate food waste. Just ignore that advice. It’s stupid.
If you are not going to use something in your pantry, regardless of the date, donate it. It doesn’t matter if it’s one item or dozens, get it to someone who can use it. Drop it off during business hours or if that is an impossibility, call ahead and find out if you can leave it, boxed or bagged appropriately, in a sheltered area.
Food Safety Is Almost Always Unrelated To Food Dates:
First of all, if you’re unsure of what those food dates mean, rest assured that the majority of the time you see a food date, with very few exceptions, it has absolutely nothing to do with food safety at all. Shocker, huh?
- At this point, the more knowledgeable of you are nodding. Good for you! Please speak up in the comments and throw your weight behind me!
- Others might be thinking, “Can this really be true?” and I know you will benefit from this page but your willingness to question indicates your openness to learning. You’re in a good spot.
- If you are shaking your head and thinking “That’s ridiculous!” I hope you’ll open your mind and read on because frankly, you are the one that really needs to know this stuff.
So here’s your chance to carry on with confidence or if you’ve tossed food due to dates on packaging and nothing more, to mend your ways.
If in Doubt About Your Food, There are Plenty of Experts to Consult:
If you can’t count on a date, what can you count on? Food, and how good it is and for how long, when stored correctly isn’t an opinion and certainly isn’t MY opinion. While there will always be variances, the determination is backed up by research from multiple agencies and scientists.
- Almost any basic food you can think of can be looked up online. Most have a governing “board” or “council” or an “association”, usually a nonprofit, and most include all kinds of facts, advice, and food safety information for the product they support. There’s a beef board; you might be familiar with from their campaigns, “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.” An Egg Board “The Incredible Edible Egg” and thousands of others. These boards may be large and/or national or small and regional.
- Our US government has several agencies where you can find all kinds of information on food safety for products of all sorts, most notably the FDA and the USDA. I know there are some that don’t put a lot of store or trust in government agencies but I’ve found their food testing and information very reliable, although sometimes I think they are on the conservative side regarding length of time a food can be safely stored. Try searching for the name of the product, for instance, “Ham” and adding in USDA or FDA or GOV behind it.
- There are colleges and extensions that deal with food safety and pathogens and many are marvelous resources, and they do often cover not just the regular grocery store food but also advise on many home processed items, dried food, canned food, etc. So does the National Center for Home Preservation. Just search for colleges and extensions using the name of the item you wish to know about and either word.
- And of course, if your product has been produced and/or manufactured, it’s a rare case where the producer doesn’t have a website. Look them up and check through their site for information on how their dates are determined, whether there may be any safety issues and so on. They’ll probably have a toll free number or email if your question isn’t answered on their site.
- There are many reliable sites that can be checked in addition to the “official” ones. Personally I’ve found EatByDate very reliable and for canned goods, I recommend Canned Food Alliance.
Now we all want to be safe when dealing with our food, but to say food is good one day and not the next by a date stamped on the package is the ultimate nonsense. When talking about fresh, perishable food, it can be good or bad regardless of any dates. When talking about pantry staples, bagged, boxed, canned and or jarred food, the dates generally have little or no meaning. Educate yourself and as my Mom would have said, “Use your old Noodle” and a lot of common sense. 🙂
Food Dates Aren’t All “Bad” & Can Be Very Helpful:
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against food dates, but they do need to be used properly.
- There’s no doubt that my experience over the decades has been helped by dates (but probably helped even more by our efficient food chain). No one wants to get home and have sour milk!
- In some areas of the country and in some stores without a high turnover, dates can be a godsend.
- Dates are a great way to pick the newest (and the ones that will last the longest at your house) items at the store.
- They are big help in rotating food so you can use the oldest first.
- And they can help in deciding whether to open and/or use fresh foods stored in the refrigerator if they’ve been forgotten and rediscovered. Check first at a reliable site for how long the product should be good. though.
Let me shed some light on these dates. In the past, and still today, manufacturers and producers often used coded dates on items. It evolved first as a way for the producers, manufacturers, shippers, and retailers to rotate stock. “First in, first out.” Way back during the 1970s when the shift of mostly homemade and/or locally produced food came about, dates on food, referred to as “open dating” started appearing to reassure consumers their products were fresh.
Over the decades, much legislation has been proposed on the federal level regarding regulating dates but none has passed with exception of infant formula, although by 2013 all but 9 states had some type of regulation regarding at least some of the dating we find on packaging. The dating remains inconsistent across the US and sometimes of little to no value.
Update: As of 2019/20, we are in danger of losing many types of dating due to rampant misuse by consumers and growing concern over food waste. Although I was unaware of it at the time I posted this in 2014, in 2013 The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council had put together a long and exhaustive history and a group of recommendations, The Dating Game. I found their 64-page report fascinating. You, maybe not so much? I’ll try to note anything I think worthwhile from that report here.
But Let’s talk about what kind of dates you might find, what they mean and when/how they are used.
Just a Date and Nothing Else:
Recently I’m seeing just dates with no other information (Buy By, Best if Used By and so on) on many products. In my state, Minnesota, I’m seeing this a lot on Aldi products.
- Depending on your state and any local laws or regulations, it’s probably a pretty safe bet to assume that is the date the product is produced.
- That’s a good thing. It eliminates any question as to how old the product is when it hits the store. It can also help us manage and rotate our food at home and use the oldest first.
- It’s up to us as consumers to be knowledgeable about our food, how to store it, how long it’s good for and so on and a “date only” stamp might help eliminate a lot of waste from those who don’t know tossing products out.
Buy By or Sell by Dates & How they Work:
“Sell by” and “Buy By” dates usually appear on dairy, sometimes animal, fish and seafood products, and other perishable items and are controlled by the producer to aid in distribution unless they are regulated by your state. They often have little meaning, although we as consumers often use these to determine which product on the shelf is the freshest. Those among us who don’t know any better often assume it means the product is “expired.”
A “Sell by” or “Buy By” date doesn’t give any of us a firm indication when the product was produced or how old it actually is when it’s purchased. The date the product is produced (in my opinion, and I do have a lot of them, lol) would be the more helpful date.
What is done with products in the store past this date is determined by the store unless regulated in some way by your state. They may be marked down, discarded, or donated or the store may follow whatever policy they have.
- It is assumed that a product when bought with a “Sell By” or “Buy By” date will last a reasonable amount of time in the home past that date with whatever shelf life it normally has.
- Let’s take milk as an example. If properly handled, milk is good after being opened for five to seven days past a “Sell by” or “Buy By” date and some are good for up to ten days unopened. I have literally seen people bring a carton of milk to the customer service center and tell them “This milk is expired” when the Sell By date was the same day.
Use By Dates can Sound Ominous:
A “use by” date sounds like a directive, an order. It sounds unequivocal and leaves you wondering “Use by…or what?” Will it taste horrible? Will you get ill? Will you die? It is not some ominous date that means the product is or isn’t good, nor does it remove the producer from any responsibility if the product is contaminated, even after the date. This may vary by producer or area but generally, this date is seen more often on highly perishable items that are normally refrigerated.
It’s typically a date added by the producer to suggest the “last date” at which they determine a product will be at peak quality. This is generally a very conservative estimate, especially if the products have been stored correctly.
Of all of the dates, this is the one that might have some bearing on food safety, but that is not always the case.
- There is no “one date” a product is or is no longer good. It is all a continuum, a slow degradation of quality for some products or in some items contamination that multiplies more quickly over time. Yogurt, packages of grocery store cheese grated, slices and blocks, and eggs are examples of the first while items like fresh chicken, fresh beef and soft cheeses fall in the second category.
- In the state I live in I first noticed “Use By” on meats. I bought a package and two days later noticed a “use by” date – for the day before. I was astounded. Use by? What the heck is “use by??” I only had it for two days! I opened the package with dread (why I assumed at that time that there was some relation to food safety, I don’t know. I was young) to find the meat perfectly fine.
Best if Used By:
It’s really not that much different than a Use By date but it seems like it’s open to a little more interpretation and is used mostly (and again this can vary by producer or area) on non-perishable items like canned, jarred or boxed or bagged goods.
- This is the date that a producer might place on a package, often on pantry stable items and is an estimate from the producer of the date a product should be used before it is no longer at its highest quality.
- It’s safe to assume that this is a VERY conservative date, in some instances by literally years in some items; no producer wants to be responsible for a product that was consumed while not at the best quality. There are reputations to uphold and possibly money on the line.
- You do want to be mindful of these dates, rotate food and be aware of items nearing the date; these dates do not mean an item is no longer good or useable but reason should prevail. Since these are not safety issues, usually our eyes, nose, and our tongue can let us know if a product is beyond use.
Keep in mind, boxed items like crackers and cookies can eventually get stale, dried beans can deteriorate to the point they will never fully rehydrate so all food can’t be expected to last forever, although canned goods can come pretty close! None of these are usually safety issues in pantry items, and if a “Best if Used By Date” is on other items, you are likely to know: moldy bread or cheese for instance.
Use or Freeze By Dates:
The Use or Freeze By Date is more often than not found on animal products. It is useless information because it doesn’t give a good indication of how the product should be handled before and/or after freezing, particularly when thawing. It was likely implemented to help avoid people from tossing frozen meat that was beyond the “Use By” dates but could cause issues to those who depend on dates.
- The first directive is the same as “Use By” dates.
- As far as Freeze By, what comes of that product after it’s frozen? Will it be good if it’s thawed overnight or longer in the fridge depending on its size? If so, that would indicate the first portion of the date, the Use portion is invalid. If that’s not the case and the product isn’t good once thawed for a normal amount of time, the Freeze By portion makes no sense. These terms are contradictory.
- I’d advise anyone to label food with the date frozen; if you feel any food frozen is nearing a state when it has to be frozen or tossed, note that on the package as you freeze it. Something like “thaw and use quickly” or some other notation that makes sense to you.
Think About Food Dates Differently:
When you buy a car, you don’t throw it out after the one-year protection date by the state (hopefully your state has one, a lemon law?) Ridiculous, right!
What about when the manufacturer’s warranty is over? No way! Does it go “bad” at 10,000, 50,000 or 60,000 miles? You gotta hope to get good mileage from a car (unless you just buy cars when you want to) and frankly, food is pretty much the same. Learn about what you’re consuming, how it stays good or goes bad and how to take care of it, just like you would your car or any other goods in your home. As a matter of fact, annually, you probably pay more for your food than any other item in your house!
- Whether it’s a jar of mayo, a piece of meat, a bag of rice, food isn’t perfectly good one day and not the next especially if it is taken care of and stored properly; any car owners will probably say the same about every nut, bolt, screw, belt or part on a car!
- All food will be on a continuum from good to not, sometimes slowly over time just like so many things on your car. There’s no doubt that items like belts and tires are the same. If I took off my tires and threw them out after the three-year date on warranty, I’d be laughed out of town.
- Learn to use resources to manage your food. Just like with your auto you where you might consult a manual, chart or online information to manage your services, do the same with your food.
- If you miss an oil change or any other suggested dated services have gone past on your automobile, you’re not going to call a tow company and have it hauled off to the dump are you? Don’t do that with your food.
Keep a closer eye on some things in your pantry, fridge, and freezer:
Of course, there are some items more prone to spoil or go stale than others, but we’re really talking quality and not food safety when dealing with food dates. As mentioned above, use your eyes, nose, and sense of taste, not a date, in most items, IF they’ve been properly stored, to determine what’s good or not.
It’s important to know what foods can be dangerous, and know how to handle them properly. Food safety goes way beyond the scope of this article, but here is some food for thought, and it can’t hurt to check out this quick article on the CDC’s list of foods that cause food poisoning.
Fridge: This is your possible “danger” area in any home. Use a thermometer, keep it above freezing and under 40 degrees F. Don’t overcrowd, allow for air circulation and keep it clean! Use the two-hour window for all items that should be refrigerated and this is one area where if in doubt, throw it out should apply for many items.
- If you are going to eat it is imperative that you know what’s a safety issue and what isn’t, how long foods are safe at when refrigerated both opened and unopened. Educate yourself on the possible dangers and bacteria and what food items are most at risk. Be aware that not all harmful bacteria can be smelled or tasted.
- Mold is not usually a particular safety issue on its own but can be an indication something has been stored too long or stored improperly. It’s probably not a big deal to trim off a little dark edge on a head of cabbage or a bit of mold off a firm cheese but be very wary of soft cheeses, lunch meats, anything with any liquid like sour cream or yogurt or jams, jellies (in days gone by we didn’t refrigerate jam and jelly and just scooped off any mold; now we know better) and so on. Get rid of it. Especially soft cheeses.
- Refrigerated ready-to-eat foods such as lunch meats and prepared salads should be used as soon as possible. There is a much greater risk of Listeria in these foods and it can grow in refrigerator temperatures, especially if the fridge reaches a temperature over 40 degrees F. Listeria cannot be seen, tasted or smelled and is incredibly dangerous to unborn babies, older individuals and those with compromised immune systems.
Pantry: How and where food is stored can drastically affect shelf life over time. Most pantry items should be stored below 75 degrees and out of sunlight. Any canned items that are bulging or leaking should normally be discarded. Rust and dents do not generally affect the quality of food inside a can according to the Canned Food Alliance. Personally, though, maybe from a long-standing belief no longer based in fact, I won’t use dented cans unless I personally dent them and then use them right away. I’ve used plenty with a little rust.
- Any prepared boxed and bagged items like saltines, breadcrumbs, cereal and so on can get stale.
- Baking powder and baking soda can lose their strength.
- Improperly stored items that have flour or corn (including corn starch) can develop weevils (freeze all products containing flour or corn for three days before putting them in your pantry.) Package or repackage as needed.
- Oils and products containing them, including nuts) can become rancid. Store nuts in the freezer and oil close to but somewhat away from the heat of the stove.
- Dried fruit can harden (repackage in sturdy Ziploc)
- Some spices can lose intensity, most after two years, those in nut or seed form will generally last several, years but some will deteriorate much quicker, usually soft herbs like cilantro, parsley, chives. Some people advise to toss spices and herbs after 6 months, btw, and that is just utter nonsense! What a waste. Many are seasonal and harvested once a year. Store in a dark cupboard away from heat and sunlight.
Freezers: There are two types of freezers most consumers use, stand-alone freezers, often referred to as deep freezers and your refrigerator/freezer combo. The latter is often set to higher than the recommended 0 degrees F. (but shouldn’t be) and prone to more opening and closing and air exchange.
A deep freeze will preserve quality in all items better than a fridge freezer and dates on packaging or recommended dates by boards or agencies are usually based on a fridge/freezer. Wrapping well and/or rewrapping (or using a food preserver, although I never have) will often extend the time as well both in your fridge/freezer and your deep freeze. How often a freezer is opened, either type, drastically affects the time an item remains at the top quality in your freezer.
- Unless freezing and thawing has happened no bacteria grow at freezer temperatures. What comes out is as good as it is when it went in as far as safety. Freezing does not kill or diminish bacteria already in food. Once the item reaches a temperature where bacteria will grow again, it does.
- Oxidation and air exchange occurs even in the freezer. Food can become stale, oils can turn rancid, although slower than at fridge or room temperatures. Air exchange can cause freezer burn or drying. Sometimes food looks freezer burned or dry when frozen but once thawed is in better shape than you might have thought. Thaw before tossing. On large meat items, freezer burn can often be trimmed. Your nose will let you know once it’s trimmed if it’s any good; freezer-burned meat has a distinctive taste that does not diminish with cooking.
- Enzymes in animal products, fruits and vegetables can lead to the deterioration of food quality. Freezing only slows the activity; it’s not harmful but can make items very unappealing. Most will notice this in items frozen at home without proper preparation.
Keep an eye on items in your freezer, especially any pricey ones. Date and rotate foods. Often quality is difficult to judge before thawing; thaw out and then determine if a product is still viable.
You need to know how to buy, transport, store and prepare food safely, and hopefully do so to keep it at its optimum freshness & nutritional value. If you don’t, you’re putting people at risk of disease and death. Period.
What Really Scares Me:
It scares me that in this day and age, with all the information we have at our fingertips, available in literally seconds, that people don’t get food dates and even worse basic food safety. Learning can literally be life or death.
- If you don’t bother, can’t learn or refuse to understand how food goes bad and when it is or isn’t good, or what those labels actually mean, how much do you know about food safety? I’m guessing next to nothing.
- Do you know about salmonella, e-coli? Perhaps. What about botulism? Maybe. Those are pretty well-known. But what about the rest of the 31 food-related pathogens that cause illness, hospitalization, and death?
And speaking of death, in some cases that is a relief for those who suffer food poisoning. There are varieties that don’t kill quickly. Victims linger on, lives destroyed along with organs, slowly dying over months. That makes those who are only hospitalized for weeks seem like they’ve had it easy. Best case scenario with food poisoning? You and anyone you’ve poisoned are just sick as dogs.
So here I’m REALLY not mincing words. Sorry if I sound “know it all” or stuck up or snide or even mean, but someone has to tell it like it is. If I were speaking to friends who know and love me, and who I hope would forgive me for my bluntness, I’d say something like:
“If you’re that stupid, you shouldn’t be cooking. You’re gonna kill someone. Because if you throw out food because you can’t judge if it is good or not, that means that you can’t judge if food is good or not! And if indeed, you can’t judge whether food is good or not, you shouldn’t be cooking. That’s just downright dangerous.”
Food Poisoning is Much More Common Than Stomach Flu:
I’ve had a couple of cases of food poisoning and don’t plan on repeating the experience! I’m pretty sure you have, too. Most cases of what we think is the “stomach flu” is actually a foodborne illness, the Norovirus. When I say “most” that figure is 80%.
Yep, 80 percent of “stomach flu” is caused by foodborne illness. Period. Food poisoning may happen within a few hours or take days to percolate. And once someone in the family falls ill from food poisoning, it can spread from person to person.
The CDC estimates “…that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 dies of foodborne diseases. The 2011 estimates provide the most accurate picture yet of which foodborne bacteria, viruses, microbes (“pathogens”) are causing the most illnesses in the United States. According to the 2011 estimates, the most common foodborne illnesses are caused by norovirus and by the bacteria Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Campylobacter.“
I’ve read a lot over the years abut food safety, and here are some of my favorite sites. All have a lot of great information and are worth a click or two! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at the resources below! Sometimes I have to keep refreshing my knowledge. 🙂
FoodSafety.gov is a great place to look for information about food recalls and all kinds of food safety issues. How long is soft cheese good for? What if there is mold on it? What kind of things can be lurking in your food?
FDA’s site on foodborne illnesses and contaminants. Includes how to buy, store and serve safe food. (See Bad Bug Book, below.)
The Center for Disease Control. If you don’t know yet what to be afraid of, read this site. There is no need to be afraid of food that isn’t expired because you don’t get the dating works, but there is a very REAL need to be afraid of bacteria and foodborne illness. You’ll find the most common ones ranked down to the least, as well as discussion and facts about the ones that make more people ill as well as the ones that kill the most people. Hint: they aren’t the same! You’ll also find out who is most at risk. It is simply a wealth of information.
Weill Cornell Medical College has an excellent PDF on how to tell if food is bad! Of course, as they say, when in doubt about food safety, throw it out. Hopefully, though, after reading the above, that will be because you are afraid of a safety issue, not just uninformed about dates.
USDA’s Site with discussion and storage dates. Many seem very conservative and rather unreasonable to me. Poultry is generally good for three to four days, depending on how it is handled. Ground products generally carry the greatest risk, but most ground beef is good longer than 1 to 2 days, but not by much. I can’t comment on ground poultry as I avoid it and grind my own for safety and health reasons. The smoked and cured products are often good for weeks. Common sense needs to prevail.
Food Safety at the most basic. A bit of a fluff site, but it has a few cute videos to show your kids about food safety.
FDA’s BAD BUG BOOK in my opinion, should be required reading for anyone who eats! If nothing else, look up the top contaminants and foodborne virus and bacteria. Below is an excerpt from the Bad Bug Book:
“Most foodborne illnesses, while unpleasant, go away by themselves and don’t have lasting effects. But you’ll read about some pathogens that can be more serious, have long‐lasting effects, or cause death. To put these pathogens in perspective, think about how many different foods and how many times you eat each day, all year, without getting sick from the food. The FDA and other Federal agencies work together and with the food industry to make the U.S. food supply one of the safest in the world.
You also play a part in the safety of what you eat. When you read the consumer boxes, you’ll see that different pathogens can be risky in different ways and that a safety step that’s effective against one might not be as effective against another. So what should you do? The answer is to follow some simple steps that, together, lower the risk from most pathogens.
- Washing your hands before and after handling food, and in between handling different foods, is one of the most important steps you can take. Do the same with equipment, utensils, and countertops.
- Wash raw fruits and vegetables under running water. These nutritious foods usually are safe, as you probably know from the many times you’ve eaten them, but wash them just in case they’ve somehow become contaminated. For the most part, the less of a pathogen on a food – if any – the less chance that it can make you sick.
- Cooking food to proper temperatures kills most bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria, and the kinds of E. coli that cause illness, and parasites.
- Keep any pathogens that could be on raw, unwashed foods from spreading by keeping raw and cooked foods separate. Keep them in different containers, and don’t use the same equipment on them, unless the equipment is washed properly in between. Treat countertops the same way.
- Refrigerate food at 40°F as soon as possible after it’s cooked. Remember, the less of a pathogen there is in a food, the less chance that it can make you sick. Proper refrigeration keeps most types of bacteria from growing to numbers that can cause illness (although if a food already has high numbers of bacteria when it’s put in the refrigerator, it could still cause illness).
Here are a few examples of why following all of these steps is important. Some types of bacteria form spores that aren’t killed by cooking. Spores are a survival mode in which those bacteria make an inactive form that can live without nutrition and that develops very tough protection against the outside world. After cooking, the spores may change and grow into bacteria, when the food cools down.
Refrigerating food quickly after cooking can help keep the bacteria from multiplying. On the other hand, cooking does kill most harmful bacteria. Cooking is especially important when a pathogen is hard to wash off of a particular kind of food, or if a bacterium can grow at refrigerator temperatures, as is true of Listeria monocytogenes and Yersinia enterocolitica.
As you read about the differences among the pathogens, remember that there’s a common theme: following all the safety steps above can help protect you. The exceptions are toxins, such as the poisons in some mushrooms and a few kinds of fish and shellfish. Cooking, freezing, and washing won’t necessarily destroy toxins. Avoiding them is your best protection.”
I hope I haven’t been too hard on you, or been too much of a Cranky Old Poo, but if you’re buying, storing, cooking and feeding people food, you need to know what you’re doing!
How about you? What horror stories have you heard regarding any of the above, food dates, food safety, etc.? Any thoughts from my friends in other countries? Do you have boards and agencies, like we do that regulate food and safety issues?
And to all of you, thanks for reading, thanks for listening and do carry on with your cooking and family meals, gathering and traditions! Safely!!