Food

Holiday Eating Survival Guide

a plate of chocolate covered pretzels with festive sprinkles on them
Photo: Air Force Academy

Choose:

  • Lower calorie appetizers- vegetables, or fruit
  • Avoid lots of cheese, and fried foods
  • Smaller plates and tall skinny glasses

Know your limits:

  • Eat before you go to a party or out holiday shopping
  • Make a healthy food for the party
  • Have a plan for healthy eating… 5 small appetizers and 2 drinks
  • 2 mixed drinks can have almost 500 calories and depending on the appetizers, it can run as high as 230 calories per appetizer
  • Indulge in a holiday treat closer to bedtime, you will tend to eat less than if you had it during the day
  • Be mindful of eating – slow down and pay attention
  • Carry hard candy mints to change the flavor of your palate or brush your teeth to signal yourself to stop eating

Start a new tradition:

  • Instead of giving cookies or chocolate try making soup mixes or salsa as gifts
  • Make a non-food craft as a holiday activity
  • Try walking, ice skating or sledding to enjoy the season
  • Try reducing fat and sugar in your holiday baking by substituting with applesauce

Article by Heather Pease, Extension educator, UConn EFNEP

What do labels really mean? Organic, Natural, Cage-Free…

organic food labelWhat do labels really mean? Organic, Natural, Cage-Free, Grass-Fed, Pasture-Raised and Local

You have probably seen these terms on food labels and in the news, but what do they really mean?  And how important is buying organic and natural foods when it comes to healthy eating.  Some terms are helpful and others are misleading. So, let’s look at some of these terms to see what they really mean.

  1. Natural

The term “natural” broadly means minimally processed and free of synthetic dyes, coloring, flavorings and preservatives.  These foods can still contain such ingredients as high fructose corn syrup and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).  Natural is largely unregulated by the USDA for most foods except meat, poultry and egg products. Foods containing meat, poultry, or eggs must be minimally processed and free of artificial ingredients in order to be labeled “natural”. However these animals may be given antibiotics, growth hormone, and fed GMO feed.

  1. Organic

Organic claims on food products are regulated by the USDA.  Organic foods must be produced without the use of most conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering.  These foods are also produced using methods that promote the conservation of our natural resources.

Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones.  These animals also must be raised in living conditions that encourage natural behaviors such as the ability to graze on pastures and are fed 100% organic feed.   This makes it less likely that these animals will carry disease or create antibiotic –resistant strains of bacteria.

Organic crops must be grown in safe soil, have no modifications and must remain separate from conventionally grown crops.  Farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers and sewage sludge –based fertilizers.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization that provides and annual list called the “dirty dozen”.  The list names 12 fruits and vegetables found to be highest in pesticide residues based on laboratory tests from the USDA.  The dirty dozen currently includes apples, celery, tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, imported nectarines, grapes, spinach, kale, pears, cherries, and potatoes. However, 2016 FDA residue findings suggest, particularly for domestically produced foods, that pesticide applications generally demonstrate compliance with legal and established agricultural practices.   The majority of samples tested contained no detectable pesticide residues while any detected residues were typically present at levels far below the tolerance levels.  This testing was conducted on produce that was not labeled organic.

In the United States there are 3 levels of organic claims:

  • 100 –percent Organic. Products that are completely organic or made of only organic ingredients qualify for this claim and a USDA Organic seal.
  • Products in which at least 95 percent of its ingredients are organic qualify for this claim and a USDA Organic seal.
  • Made with Organic ingredients. These are food products in which at least 70 percent of ingredients are certified organic. The USDA Organic seal cannot be used but “made with organic ingredients” may appear on its packaging.
  1. Grass –fed and grass- finished or 100% grass-fed.

If an animal is grass- fed and grass-finished then their feed was composed entirely of grass, legumes, and green vegetation up until the animal was slaughtered.  However, this label does not address the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides.  USDA defines “grass fed” as it applies to labeling but does not regulate it in any way.  So when shopping for meat, you need to make sure you are getting 100% Organic, Grass-Fed meat.  Grass-fed beef is leaner and has been shown to have healthier omega-3 fatty acids.

  1. Cage –Free

This term simply indicates that animals were not kept in cages.  They are still in an enclosed facility, but with unlimited access to food and fresh water.  The facility; however; could be very small and crowded with little room to move about.  This health claim does not mean that animals were free to roam in pastures or that they had access to the outdoors.  Many cage-free claims are not certified, making it a misleading label.

  1. Free- Range

USDA has approved this term for animals that were raised in a sheltered facility with unlimited access to food, water, and access to the outdoors.  It does not indicate that the animal went outside in its lifetime, only that there was a door to the outside.  The term does not specify the outdoor conditions, but pastures are permitted to be fenced and covered in netting.

  1. Pasture – Raised

USDA has not developed a definition for this term yet; however; many farmers use it to distinguish themselves from “free range” farms.  Animals are free to roam outdoors with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and indoor shelter in case of bad weather.  This differs from “free range” in that pasture-raised animals spend more time outdoors than indoors.  This is the most ideal label to look for when choosing chicken and eggs.  Often these animals are not given growth hormone or antibiotics, but you need to ask to be 100% sure.

  1. Locally Grown

What is local food?  Unlike organic standards, there is no specific definition.  Generally local food means food that was grown close to home.  This could be in your own garden, your local community, your state, or your region.  People buy locally for the financial benefits, less transportation of the food and freshness of the food.  Small local farmers often use organic methods, but sometimes cannot afford to become certified organic. Visit a farmers market and talk to the farmers.  Find out how they produce the fruits and vegetables they sell.

In summary, it is important to look at claims on the foods that you buy to be sure you are getting what you want.  Be aware of the differences in labels so that you know what you are buying, particularly if it costs you more than conventional foods.

References

Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) 2019. Interpreting Pesticide Residues in Food. Issue Paper 66. CAST. Ames, Iowa.   www.cast-science.org

http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/food-labeling/organic-foods

http://eatright.org/Public/content.

http://www.helpguide.org/life/organic_foods_pesticides

http://eatlocalgrown.com/article/12735  – what do-organic-natural-cage-free

 

Article by Sherry Gray, UConn Extension Educator

Updated: 11/13/19

Job Opening: Laboratory Technician

POSITION ANNOUNCEMENT: UCPEA 4 LABORATORY TECHNICIAN II

 

POSITION

soil in handThe Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture at the University of Connecticut invites applications for a permanent, 12-month position as an UCP 4 Laboratory Technician II. Reporting to the Laboratory Manager, this position provides technical support for the Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory and serves as a primary resource to the University community, the general public and a wide variety of internal and external constituents.

The College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) at the University of Connecticut contributes to a sustainable future through scientific discovery, innovation, and community engagement. CAHNR’s accomplishments result in safe, sustainable and secure plant and animal production systems, healthier individuals and communities, greater protection and conservation of our environment and natural resources, balanced growth of the economy, and resilient local and global communities. We epitomize the role of a land-grant university, which is to develop knowledge and disseminate it through the three academic functions of teaching, research, and outreach. In so doing, we improve the lives of citizens of our state, region and country.

DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

The successful candidate will be expected to prepare and analyze soil and plant tissue samples, and report results to farmers, contractors, researchers, professors, commercial growers, landscapers, lawn care companies, and homeowners. Specific duties include: participate in meetings to plan and evaluate lab procedures; identify procedures for intended results and make modifications to incorporate suggestions for improvement; assist in editing and updating lab manuals, and keep current on new procedures and laboratory software; prepare reagents, solutions and other lab supplies or apparatus needed to complete laboratory procedures; assist, and instruct student workers with their duties and with technical problems related to laboratory procedures and equipment; Maintain up-to-date inventory of supplies; set up and maintains laboratory; instruct others in proper and safe use of equipment; answer phone and provide information to customers about interpretation of results or refer customers to Home and Garden Education Center; order lab supplies, chemicals and office supplies using UConn’s KFS, purchase orders and Pro-Card; and schedule outside repairs of lab and office equipment as well as perform routine maintenance and minor repair of lab equipment and related apparatus to ensure proper working order. Maintain the Laboratory’s Facebook page and perform outreach at Hartford Flower Show annually. The person selected will work in close cooperation with the Home and Garden Education Center.

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS

B.S. degree in chemistry, geology, biological sciences or other lab oriented scientific discipline and 1-3 years of experience, or equivalent education and experience. Demonstrated knowledge of concepts, practices and standard laboratory procedures used in a soil testing laboratory, including digital handling of laboratory data.  Knowledge of standard laboratory safety procedures. Excellent verbal and written communication skills, including the ability to explain laboratory procedures and to edit laboratory manuals. Experience using Microsoft Word and Excel, and social media platforms, e.g. Facebook. Demonstrated ability to work independently.

PREFERRED QUALIFICATIONS

B.S. degree in chemistry, geology, biological sciences or other lab oriented scientific discipline. Ability to program in Microsoft Access; Experience analyzing water or soil extracts using an Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP), discrete

analyzer, or other related analytical instrument; Knowledge about how fertilizer recommendations are developed; Plant science background; Knowledge of analytical chemistry.

APPOINTMENT TERMS

This is a full-time position with a competitive salary and a complete benefits package including health insurance, vacation time and retirement benefits. The successful candidate’s appointment will be at the Storrs Depot campus. The Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab is located at 6 Sherman Place, Storrs, CT

TO APPLY

Position available March 15, 2020. Applicants should submit a letter of application, resume, and a list of contact information for three (3) professional references to UConn Jobs at http://www.jobs.uconn.edu/.  Unofficial transcripts will be required at time of interview.

This job posting is scheduled to be removed at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on January 15, 2020.

All employees are subject to adherence to the State Code of Ethics which may be found at http://www.ct.gov/ethics/site/default.asp.

__________________________________________________________________________________

The University of Connecticut is committed to building and supporting a multicultural and diverse community of students, faculty and staff. The diversity of students, faculty and staff continues to increase, as does the number of honors students, valedictorians and salutatorians who consistently make UConn their top choice. More than 100 research centers and institutes serve the University’s teaching, research, diversity, and outreach missions, leading to UConn’s ranking as one of the nation’s top research universities. UConn’s faculty and staff are the critical link to fostering and expanding our vibrant, multicultural and diverse University community. As an Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity employer, UConn encourages applications from women, veterans, people with disabilities and members of traditionally underrepresented populations.

Environmental Monitoring for Food Safety

worker in a dairy processing facility with a swab and computer taking a sample for food safety
Photo: NCSU Extension

Dairy Processors: Are you interested in designing and implementing an environmental monitoring program (EMP) to improve your food safety program? This course may be for you.

In this eight-hour online course, you will learn alongside virtual dairy processors and apply concepts in the context of a dairy facility. This online course is available on-demand and adapts to your understanding of the materials. These features provide you with the flexibility to progress at your own pace with the confidence you will understand the content.

Dennis D’Amico, our Extension educator in the Department of Animal Science at UConn was one of the educators who developed this course. For more information, or to register, please visit NCSU Food Safety.

Dress your Table with Connecticut Grown this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving meal featuring Connecticut Grown foodsPreparations are underway in many homes for the Thanksgiving holiday. Governor Ned Lamont and Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt would like to recognize the many hands that play a role in putting food on your table, including the more than 5,500 farm families in Connecticut.

“Connecticut farmers are an essential segment of our state’s economy—but also a critical component to the wonderful food that many of us gather around each Thanksgiving,” Governor Lamont said. “That is why, when preparing for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, consider using Connecticut Grown products–from delicious turkey to incredible deserts and other beverages, Connecticut farmers provide families with affordable and nutritious food options. Make this year a true Connecticut Thanksgiving with Connecticut Grown.”

According to the National Turkey Federation, 46 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving. Now is the time to place your order for a Connecticut Grown turkey. More than a dozen Connecticut turkey producers can be found at www.ctgrown.gov offering fresh or frozen, heritage or grass-fed, pastured raised birds. Nearly all of the ingredients for your appetizers, sides, beverages, and desserts can be found by stopping by a holiday farmers’ market, farm stand, farm winery, brewery, or your local grocery store that features products from neighboring farms.

“From a Connecticut Grown turkey to potatoes, winter squash, Brussel sprouts, root vegetables, cranberries, greens, cheese, milk, beer and wine, we can, and do, produce it here,” says Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt. “Farmers are the backbone of our nation and we are fortunate to have a diverse array of agriculture in Connecticut creating a bountiful harvest.”

If you are looking for ways to prepare your Connecticut Grown food, there are hundreds of recipes on our Pinterest board for you to try. We have you covered with traditional dishes, modern twists on a long-time favorites, and ideas for using up leftovers. Find those recipes, and more, by clicking here: https://www.pinterest.com/GrowCTAg/boards/

As you sit down with family and friends to celebrate all that you are thankful for, remember to thank a farmer.

Growing Food with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and UConn Extension have been collaborating thanks to a U.S.D.A. Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program to enhance agricultural production, food security, and health of tribal community members.

UConn Extension Growing Food With the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation

#AskUConnExtension #UConnImpact

CAHNR Strategic Visioning Process

food, health and sustainability are the three program areas of UConn CAHNR

The UConn College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources is engaged in a strategic visioning process.  You also may have received the invitation below from Dean Chaubey.  As one who knows about the College, we would love to have your input into the strategic direction the College will take over the next 5-10 years. Listening Sessions are scheduled in different parts of the state during the week of November 18. Please read some more about the process and information about how to attend. Here is the link for more information and this is the link to sign up.

Dear Colleague,

We need your assistance. The College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) is undertaking a strategic visioning process that we believe will ensure that CAHNR will continue to be successful for many years.  While maintaining its roots at the core of the state’s land grant institution, the college has grown to include a diverse set of academic disciplines.  The unique combination of disciplines within CAHNR provides opportunities for innovation that can help address today’s emerging issues.

Our goal, with your input, will be to identify key knowledge areas that enable the college to have the greatest potential success for the next decade.   The project will allow us to have a dialogue on the future implications of trends and issues affecting our society, state, industries and communities, and to reflect on the state of the college and then come to consensus on focus areas of teaching, research, and extension. Ultimately, the project will drive our work to be as successful in 2030 as we are today.

The process will involve capturing input from internal and external stakeholders, gathering and evaluating data/feedback, and creating a vision for the future.  This will be a data and stakeholder driven effort because we believe you know most about what is needed from CAHNR to impact important issues within and beyond the state.  We created a process that we believe will produce a dynamic, forward-thinking, and focused description of a future that will position CAHNR to be among the most preeminent institutions of its kind in the nation.

To successfully achieve our goal, CAHNR leadership has identified a core team of individuals to spearhead this effort. These individuals bring their knowledge, experience, vision, and commitment to this endeavor while reaching out to learn as much as they can from others.  The strategic visioning team is co-chaired by Ashley Helton (Associate Professor, Department of Natural Resources and the Environment) and Justin Nash (Professor and Head, Department of Allied Health Sciences) and includes a cross-section of units in the college. The strategic visioning team is spending the next several months listening to stakeholders of the college, studying peer institutions, and consulting with funding agencies. As this will require time, energy, and commitment, our goal is to listen and learn from as many stakeholders as possible while maximizing the use of everyone’s time.

As part of the information gathering process, we will be reaching out to you and other individuals to ask you a brief set of questions.  As one of our leadership team members reaches out to you in the next few weeks, I sincerely hope that you will l be available to provide your input. We value and appreciate you volunteering your time to help us envision a future that will make CAHNR a regional and national leader in our mission areas. A brief fact sheet about the college is attached.  If you have any questions, please feel free to reach me (email: Indrajeet.chaubey@uconn.edu) or Committee Co-Chairs (ashley.helton@uconn.edu or justin.nash@uconn.edu).  Thank you again for your time and help.

Best,

Indrajeet Chaubey

Dean, UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources                          

Heart Healthy Cooking Oils

food cooking in a skillet over the fireThis article will review the health and cooking properties of oils available in markets.

With so many cooking oils to choose from, it can be confusing which ones are heart-healthy and which ones are not. Cooking oils include plant, animal or synthetic fats used in frying, baking and other types of cooking. Oils are also used as ingredients in commercially prepared foods, and condiments, such as salad dressings and dips. Although cooking oils are typically liquid, some that contain saturated fat such as coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil are solid at room temperature.

Health and Nutrition

The Food and Drug Administration recommends that 30% or less of calories from the foods you eat daily should be from fat and fewer than 7% from saturated fat. Saturated fat is found in animal and dairy products as well as the tropical oils (coconut, palm and palm kernel oil). The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and World Heart Foundation have recommended that saturated fats be replaced with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Olive and canola oils are good sources of monounsaturated fats while soybean and sunflower oils are rich in polyunsaturated fat. Oils high in unsaturated fats may help to lower ”bad” Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and may raise “good” High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

Omega- 3 and Omega- 6 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 and Omega-6 are essential fatty acids – we cannot make them on our own and must get them from the foods we eat.  Both are polyunsaturated fatty acids that differ from each other in their chemical structure. In modern diets, there are few sources of Omega -3 fatty acids, mainly the fat of cold water fish such as salmon and sardines. Vegetarian sources such as walnuts and flaxseeds contain a precursor of Omega-3 that the body must convert to a useable form. Keep in mind that Omega-3 fats from marine sources, such as fish and shellfish have much more powerful health benefits than Omega-3 fats from plant sources. By contrast, there are abundant sources of Omega-6 fatty acids in our diets. They are found in seeds and nuts and the oils extracted from them. Refined vegetable oils, such as soy oil, are used in most of the snack foods, cookies, crackers and sweets in the American diet as well as in fast food. Most Americans get far too much Omega-6 and not enough Omega-3 so it is recommended to eat more foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids.

Trans Fats

Unlike other dietary fats, trans fats are not essential and they do not promote good health.  Consumption of trans fats increases one’s risk of heart disease by raising levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and lowering levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.  Trans fats are artificially created by the process of hydrogenation that turns liquid oils into solid fats. Trans fat formed naturally is found in small amounts in some animal products, such as meat and dairy products. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration, took action to significantly reduce the use of partially hydrogenated oils.   Trans fats formed artificially during food processing are often found in commercial baked goods, crackers, and fried foods, as well as shortening and some margarines.  When the label of ingredients says “partially hydrogenated”, it’s probably likely to contain trans fats. The Nutrition Facts label lists trans fats per serving.

Cooking with Oil

Heating oil changes its characteristics so it is important to know the smoke point – the point at which an oil begins to break down structurally, producing unhealthful by-products such as free radicals. Oils that are healthy at room temperature can become unhealthy when heated above certain temperatures. When choosing a cooking oil, it is important to match the oil’s heat tolerance with the cooking method. Generally, the more refined the oil, the higher it’s smoke point.

High Smoke Point (Best for searing, browning and deep frying)

Oil % Mono %Poly % Saturated Notes
Almond 65 28 7 Has a distinctive nutty flavor; don’t use if allergic to nuts
Avocado 65 18 17 Has a sweet aroma
Hazelnut 82 11 7 Bold, strong flavor; don’t use if allergic to nuts
Palm 38 10 52 High in saturated fat; not recommended.
Sunflower

(high oleic)

82 9 9 Look for high oleic versions – higher in mono-unsaturated fat.
Rice Bran 47 33 20 Very clean flavored and palatable
Mustard 60 21 13 Palatable
Tea Seed 60 18 22 Good for frying and stir-frying
“Light”/refined Olive 73 11 14 The more refined the olive oil the better its all-purpose cooking use.  “Light” refers to color.

 

Medium – High Smoke Point (Best suited for baking, oven cooking or stir frying)

Oil %Mono %Poly %Saturated Notes
Canola 62 31 7 Contains good levels of Omega-3;good all-purpose oil
Grapeseed 17 73 10 High in Omega-6
Macadamia nut 84 3 13 Bold flavor, don’t use if allergic to nuts
Extra virgin olive 73 11 14 Good all –purpose oil
Peanut 48 34 18 Great for stir frying, don’t use if allergic to nuts

 

Medium Smoke Point (Best suited for light sautéing, sauces and low-heat baking)

Oil %Mono %Poly % Saturated Notes
Corn 25 62 13 High in Omega-6, high mono-unsaturated versions coming.
Hemp 15 75 10 Good source of Omega-3. Keep refrigerated
Pumpkin Seed 36 57 8 Contains Omega-3
Sesame 41 44 15 Rich nutty flavor, keep refrigerated
Soybean 25 60 15 High in Omega-6
Walnut 23 63 9 Good source of Omega- 3
Coconut 6 2 92 High in saturated fat; use in moderation.

 

No – Heat Oils (Best used for dressings, dips or marinades)

Oil %Mono %Poly %Saturated Notes
Flaxseed

(Linseed oil)

21 68 11 Excellent source of alpha-linoleic acid, a form of Omega -3
Wheat germ 65 18 17 Rich in Omega-6. Keep refrigerated.

Storage/Shelf Life

Different oils stay fresh for different amounts of time, but you must store them all carefully. They should be tightly covered and stored in the dark away from heat. The less access to air, the fresher they will stay. Refrigeration benefits most oils.  If unopened, peanut oil, corn oil, and other vegetable oils will keep for at least a year. Once opened, they are good for 4-6 months. Olive oil will keep for about 6 months in a cool, dark pantry but up to a year in the refrigerator.  Walnut oil and sesame oil are delicate and inclined to turn rancid. Keep in the refrigerator and they will stay fresh for 2-4 months. It is best to purchase smaller bottles of oil if not used extensively.

Proper Disposal of Used Cooking Oil

Proper disposal of used cooking oil is an important waste-management concern. A single gallon of oil can contaminate as much as 1 million gallons of water. Oils can congeal in pipes causing major blockages. Cooking oil should never be dumped in the kitchen sink or in the toilet bowl. The proper way to dispose of oil is to put it in a sealed, non-recyclable container and discard it with regular garbage.

 

Article by: Sherry Gray MPH, RD

Extension Educator, UConn EFNEP

Updated: 10/1/19

 

Sources:

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/InteractiveNutritionFactsLabel/factsheets/Trans_Fat.pdf

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/InteractiveNutritionFactsLabel/factsheets/Total_Fat.pdf

Wikipedia.org/wiki/cooking-oil

Health.clevelandclinic.org/2012/05/heart-healthy-cooking-oils-101/

www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-fats/

whatscookingamerica.net/information/cookingoiltypes.html

Survey could help efforts to get more seafood eaten in CT

people eating seafood outside at picnic tables
Photo: Judy Benson

If you’re an average Connecticut resident, you probably didn’t eat seafood more than once in the last week.

But you might, if you knew more about how to prepare different types of fish, shellfish and seaweed, and where to buy local seafood. You’d also be inclined to have seafood more often if you knew more about its safety.

Those are some of the key findings of the Connecticut Seafood Survey, a 2½-year project to better understand current eating habits and how best to make of all types of seafood – but especially the shellfish, seaweed and fish from local waters – a more frequent part of state residents’ diets. Half the residents surveyed said they eat seafood just once a week – which is out of sync with the Food & Drug Administration’s recommendations. The FDA says adults should eat two or more servings per week to get all the nutritional benefits their bodies need.

Read more….

Article and photo by Judy Benson

Expiration, Use-By and Sell-By dates: What do they really mean?

person's hands holding food and looking at expiration date for food in the grocery store
Photo: Aviano Air Base

Often people open up their refrigerators, cupboards and cabinets to find foods that are beyond their sell- buy and use- buy dates. While it is always better to be safe than sorry, the following guidelines and information should help to take the guesswork out of determining whether or not your food is safe to eat.

Dating is not required by US Federal law, with the exception of infant formula and baby foods which must be withdrawn by their expiration date.  For all other foods, except dairy products in some states, freshness dating is strictly voluntary on the part of manufacturers.  For meat, poultry, and egg products under the jurisdiction of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), dates may be voluntarily applied provided they are not misleading and labeled in a manner that is in compliance with FSIS regulations.  Also stores are not legally required to remove outdated products from their shelves.  In order to ensure you getting the freshest food, it is necessary to scrutinize packaging and purchase the items with the most recent date.  Although most markets are good about rotating their stock, some are not. If a store is properly stocked, the freshest items will be at the back of the shelf or underneath older items.

So what do these terms mean for consumers?

* Expiration Date:   If you have a product with an expired expiration date, throw it out.  While other dating terms are used as a basic guideline, this one is absolute.

*Best if Used-By and Use-By date:

“Use-By” or: Best if Used By” dates are a suggestion for when the food item will be at its best quality.  Food is generally safe if consumed past this date, but may have deteriorated in flavor, texture, or appearance.  “Use- By” dates are most often found on canned goods, dry goods, condiments, or other shelf stable items.  The Food and Drug Administration is supporting the food industry’s efforts to standardize the use of this on its packaged food labeling.

*Sell-By date:

Many fresh or prepared foods are labeled with a “Sell-By” date as a guide for how long the item should be displayed for sale before quality deteriorates.  Items are generally safe for consumption after this date, but may begin to lose flavor or eye appeal.  “Sell-By” dates are chosen with the assumption that the buyer may store or eat the item a few days after purchase.  To be sure your food is fresh and will keep at home, it is best not to buy items that are past their “ sell by” date.

*Guaranteed Fresh

This date is often used for perishable baked goods.  Beyond this date, freshness is no longer guaranteed, although it may still be edible.

*Pack date:

This is the date the item was packed, most often used on canned and boxed items.  It is usually in the form of a code and not easy to decipher.  It may be coded by month(M), day (D) and year (Y) such as YYMMDD or MMDDYY.  Or it may be coded using Julian numbers, where January 1 would be 001 and December 31 would be 365.   These time stamps are generally a reference to the date, time, and location of the manufacture and not be confused with expiration dates.  “Sell-By” or “ Best-By” may also be included on the can code.

So all of this assumes foods are stored at the right temperature.  Foods not refrigerated properly – whether at home or at the store – wont keep as long regardless of what the freshness date says.  So how long are foods good after the package date?  According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service:

  • Milk is good for about a week after the “sell by” date
  • Eggs can keep for three to five weeks beyond the “sell by” date
  • Fresh chicken, turkey and ground meats should be cooked or frozen within two days
  • Fresh beef, pork and lamb should be cooked or frozen within three to five days

Cooking or freezing extends the amount of time a food will keep.  Use your eyes and nose too, to determine if foods are fresh, regardless of the date on the package.

So here are some food storage hints and tips:

  • Once opened, many of the dates become obsolete since the contents now become perishable. It is advisable to use food as quickly as possible after opening them.
  • Be sure to refrigerate leftovers in a covered container (not a can) and use within 3 to 5 days.
  • Some canned foods (like condiments and pickled foods) will have a longer shelf life if refrigerated. Most condiments will have a warning to refrigerate after opening on the label.
  • When buying foods always check the expiration date. Choose the date farthest in the future for optimum shelf life.
  • Like the grocery, rotate your stock at home. Rather than trying to determine the codes on cans, use a marker to write the purchase date on cans and packaged goods.
  • Whatever the expiration date, do not open or use cans that are bugling or oozing from the seams, or those that are heavily dented.
  • Most baking mixes contain fats which will become rancid with time and leaveners that lose their potency. Check the dates.
  • The best storage temperature for canned foods is 65 degrees F. Higher storage temperatures can reduce shelf-life up to 50 percent.  Most canned goods can be stored up to 1 year under optimal temperatures.
  • Canned foods should never be frozen. The freezing expansion can split the seams of the can or break the glass.
  • Generally, foods canned in glass have a longer shelf-life, but they must be stored in the dark since light can accelerate some natural chemical reactions.
  • Look at cellophane, plastic and box packages at the store to be sure they have not been punctured or torn. Once the seal is penetrated, shelf-life of the contents is drastically shortened.
  • Bring food home quickly from the store and store it properly for maximum shelf life.
  • Trust your vision and smell- if it looks and/or smells bad throw it out.
  • A resource available for consumers online with questions about how to keep perishable foods is: The FoodKeeper App (https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/foodkeeperapp/index.html)

 

Resources:

www.fsis.usda.gov

www.nrdc.org/food/expiration-dates.asp

www.urbanext.illinois.edu/thrifyliving/tl-foodfreshness.html

http://www.onthetable.net/freshness_dates.html

http://www.nutrition411.com/patient-education-materials/food-safety/

 

Article by: Sherry Gray, MPH, RD, Extension Educator, UConn EFNEP

Updated: September 30, 2019