Thursday, January 31, 2013

It is a new year and all that new number really means to me is that I have to now check the expiration dates on everything I buy and throw out the product if it is expired. Keep it if the year is 2013 throw it out if it says 2012 simple right? No not simple at all because each product has slightly different terminology for a message. Some products before listing a date say, sell by, use by and even best if used by or just plain expired. Should we be saying soon dead, soon to die or dead too?
When I see a date on food it is something that I think I can rely on for accuracy. Not necessarily. When you see a date on products like baby food and infant formula, that is something that is mandated by the government for safety reasons. For the rest of products it is really up to the manufacturer’s digression.
Samantha Cassidy of Good Housekeeping Magazine says those numbers printed on most foods can be misleading. She says that when it says sell by a date that means you have about 5 to 7 days when opening something fresh like milk. Eggs could say use by and then a date. She says you don’t actually have to use the dozen eggs by that date. Eggs will stay fresh if you keep them in the coldest part of your refrigerator in the carton for three to five weeks past the use by date. Well then what do I put in the egg section of the refrigerator?
When I see use by and a date, I am afraid to use the product past that date. Then why would the manufacturer go through the bother to put a use by date on the thing anyway? Why have these dates if it means something different? Many countries have required food dating especially in Europe and Japan and other countries. Experts from New York Universities Department of Nutrition Food Studies and Public Health, also say that food dates are simply guidelines.
The fact is that the food dating we have now is confusing at the least and may be misleading at the worst. So, we are back to relying on our senses and the Dad of the house has to always be the worrier there in front of the family pack to be the one elected to check the stuff out to see if it is still good. Yes, I am the one that has to see if it looks different. Does it taste different? Is the texture different? Then, if I still don’t know I end up throwing it out anyway.
There is no hard and fast rules set by any government agency for food dating and because most people don’t want to take any chances when food hits it’s expiration date, we just toss it. So, what about the stuff without a date? That could be hanging around unnoticed for a long time. But tossing things out can be a problem in itself. It is estimated that 40% of food produced here in America goes right in the trash.
Janet Kalish is a NYC high school teacher who got fed up with seeing supermarkets toss out good food. For the past 8 years she has been doing her shopping on the streets. She claims that 90% of the food she eats is as she calls it rescued, actually comes from someone’s trash. She finds plenty of fresh food tossed from bakeries, grocers and fruit and vegetable markets. Even in a down economy food is apparently plentiful and at times gets tossed simply because no one bought it earlier that day. She finds loaves of bread at times that is still hot fresh out of the oven.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans throw away $165 Billion dollars worth of food every year. That is about 20 pounds per person every month. It is not even considering the amount of food that doesn’t even make it to the store. On farms across the country perfectly good produce is routinely plowed up and destroyed. Allow open picking days to the general public and give families a chance to keep a few more bucks in their pockets instead of spending their last dollar on a bag of carrots at the supermarket.
Christy Porter runs Hidden Harvest in California’s Coachella Valley where she has workers who pick through harvested farm fields to search for what is left over before the plows destroy the plants. The rescued vegetables are given away to local communities where people wait on line to receive food that otherwise would have gone to waste. That wonderful service is nothing compared to other big rescue food organizations.
At Loaves & Fishes a place that advertises that they are Ending Hunger in Our Community, is based in Naperville, Illinois. Their locations all over the country look just like regular supermarkets except 75% of everything in the store was destined for the dumpster. Now it is free for the needy. It is the richest county in Illinois but yet 1 out of 5 kids will go hungry sometime this year.
Ironically, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans threw out $282,000,000 million dollars worth of uneaten turkey into the trash this past Thanksgiving. We could be saving a lot of money on food if the people in the community would just get together with businesses and organize a system of sharing instead of trashing. How about our local elected officials do something useful and take on this issue.

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