Saturday, March 8, 2014
Use By and Best Before Dates
Maybe all of us have at some point been confused with the use by and best before dates printed on so many of the foods we buy today. The best way that we can understand these dates is to remember that use by dates are necessary for health safety, while best before dates are more about peak quality than safety. Today I thought I'd focus on several everyday foods that can last for a number of weeks after their best before date - providing they are stored correctly.
EGGS - remain to have a sense of mystery about them as we've noticed that in most countries they are sold in market places, unrefrigerated. In North America, eggs are refrigerated because of the sanitation process they go through to remove bacteria, which also removes the natural protective coating. As long as eggs are kept cold, they are still good to use until about a month after the sell by or best if used by date.
If in doubt, fill a bowl with water and gently lower the egg into the water. A good egg will sink to the bottom and a bad egg will float. If the egg has lost some of its freshness it will kind of stand up in the water. It can still be used in baking at this point, but will most likely not be the best for whipping up a meringue.
BUTTERMILK, SOUR CREAM and YOGURT - while dairy products such as milk and cream, will have a sell by or best before by date that can extend maybe a week if unopened (you can quickly tell by textures and smell if it's bad) - cultured dairy products don't spoil as quickly due to the fermentation process of probiotic bacteria and lactic acid, slowing the growth of unwanted bacteria and mold. If sealed and refrigerated, these products will last four to six weeks past the best before date. If opened, they will still keep a few weeks past the date. If you see mold, you know to throw it out. Note that buttermilk liquids can separate and you may need to give it a bit of a shake. If you wish to use these products before they go bad, use some in place of some of the oil and/ or milk in your favorite chocolate cake, coffee cake, muffins or pancakes.
HARD to SEMI HARD CHEESE - such as Parmesan, Romano, cheddar and Swiss, unopened, can last up to three months after the best before date. The less moisture a cheese contains, the harder it is and the longer it keeps. Once opened, depending on handling and packaging, it will last another few weeks. To protect cheese from mold, work with it in a clean area. It will keep better if re wrapped with new plastic wrap after each time opened. If you notice mold, cut off the area from once inch away. Remember shredded cheese freezes well.
BREAD - need never be thrown out, because you can keep it from getting moldy by freezing it and taking out one slice at a time. If it will be consumed quickly, you can refrigerate it. If it gets a bit dry or stale, you can use it for French toast or bread pudding. You can also toast it for bread crumbs.
CEREALS - unopened, will be fine for half a year after the best before date. Some even longer -
you can check for crispness and flavor. In order to keep opened cereal tasting fresh longer, tightly roll packaging bag or seal with a clip.
MAYONNAISE - sealed, unopened, can be kept in the pantry for 2 - 3 months, but in the fridge for 1 year. So why not refrigerate it right away? Once opened, it will keep in the fridge for 2 - 3 months. Throw it out if the color or odor is off. The best before date will depend on when it was opened and proper handling.
The important thing is to understand when to consider safety as opposed to freshness. Please remember that individual cases will vary and that this advice should only be taken as an opinion.
TIPS TO AVOID UNNECESSARY WASTE
Use by does not always mean eat by. If a food can be frozen, the date can be extended indefinitely. Store meat in the freezer instead of in the fridge, unless you will be using it in the next day or two.
As much a possible, set a regular day for shopping so that you come to know how much dairy, fruit and vegetables your family uses in that given time. Try to make do with what you have until your "shopping day." This can be a time of learning to be creative.
Don't be fooled by purchasing bulk or large sizes that appear less expensive in the long run, unless you know you will use it all. Throwing half out in the end, may not make the money saving alright because one gets used to the habit of throwing out food.
Plan meals ahead of time so you buy what you need and not what you are hungry for while shopping.