Do you know when to throw away food? part 1

Catherine's picture

If you don´t, you’re not alone. Statistically we waste 20 pounds of food per person and month; that’s about three times more than we did in the 1960th. Most people throw out food when it reaches its expiration date, but that doesn´t necessarily means that the food has gone bad.

There are different types of expiration dates, but none of them tells you when the food is unsafe from a health perspective. The "sell by" date shows the retailer how long they can display the items in the store; the "best by" date indicates when the food reaches its quality peak. The latter depends on how you store and handle the food, but it says nothing about when it´s unsafe to eat.

Our Grandmothers relied on their nose and taste buds and that´s probably why they didn’t throw away as much as we do. So let’s forget about the expiration date and instead look at how food behaves and when it becomes dangerous.

One disclaimer though; use my advice at your own discretion and responsibility. If in doubt, it´s better to be safe than sorry, so never eat anything you aren´t 100% sure of.

Now let’s dig into food.

Food has one big enemy and that´s microbes. Among microbes are bacteria’s, viruses, jest and molds. The most common, in food, are bacteria’s and molds.

Most bacteria’s dies in 140-215F, so the bacteria’s in itself isn´t the problem. Both mold and bacteria’s creates toxins and they can remain in cooked food; it´s the toxins that gives you food poisoning. The toxin can also spread in the kitchen during preparation and contaminate other food items, like fresh vegetables and bread.

It´s important to remember that all bacteria’s aren’t dangerous, we have a lot of positive bacteria’s that we need for our well-being. One example in food is yoghurts, which get it´s texture, taste and health benefits from its bacterial cultures.

A microbe needs water to develop, so water and moist are the enemy. A food item that contains a high level of water will spoil easy. Sometimes water content is obvious, like in a cucumber which has more than 95% water in it. The same goes for tomatoes, squash, salad and plenty of other vegetables.

Most fish and meat has 65-80% natural water in it, with beef and seafood at the high end, game and poultry in the middle and lamb, pig and salmon at the low end. This is why seafood spoils more easily than pork chops.

But the natural water levels aren’t enough. Preparing and tenderizing beef takes time, which most producers’ lack, so instead they infuse the meat with salty water and preserves to tenderize it faster. There is also a more sinister idea behind added water, it increases the weight and you have to pay more for the food. Last fall there was a Food Standards Agency survey that showed some interesting water facts.

  • Scallops had between 10-54% added water
  • Frozen scampi and prawns had up to 44% added water
  • Poultry up to 37% added water
  • Bacon up to 25% water
  • Ham up to 30% water

So regardless of if it´s obvious or not; most food contains a lot of water and the manufacturers add to this by infusing even more.

Where there is water, we have a ground for bacteria. So the food items water content will tell you how long it will last, unless we do something about it. There are two ways to stop the bacterial process, either dehydrate or pacify the water. We are going to look into this in part two of this post.

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