Are you a slave to the "use by," "best by" or "expiration" dates on food products? According to a recent news article, you might be contributing to the estimated 30-plus BILLION tons of food that Americans waste every year. A spokesperson for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that with the exception of expiration dates for infant formula, all of those designations are not intended as hard and fast deadlines but simply as guidelines. To avoid throwing out perfectly good food, experts suggest you use common sense and follow what your nose tells you. Here's some advice by Scott Hurd, a professor at Iowa State University who studies food safety, from an article posted on MSNBC.Com.
"If you can't go strictly by the use-by date, and you don't have an in-house microbiologist, how can you tell if there's too much salmonella in your meat? It turns out you have a pretty good, if primitive, microbiology lab: your nose.
"Dangerous food pathogens such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli don't directly rot food, and thus don't produce any decomposition smells, but other bacteria that spoil food grow alongside these harmful bugs.
"According to Hurd, the food rot can serve as the canary in the coal mine. "The 'spoilage bacteria' will usually notify us if we're getting too much bacterial growth," he said. If there is enough spoilage bacteria to produce an odor, there's a good chance that salmonella and the others are present in dangerous quantities as well.
"In brief, use the powers of smell and taste that nature gave you. "What one has to do is look at the expiration date of milk, for example. If it's past or near that date, then take a small taste. Spoilage bacteria is your clue," Hurd said.
"If it doesn't taste funky, don't throw it out: You can probably drink it without worry."