REDUCING FOOD WASTE: Understanding how long preserved foods are “good”

I started Can-Do Real Food after working part of one growing season at a farm and becoming aware for the first time just how much food never even reaches people who want to eat. Farmers regularly pull aside veggies and fruit that are imperfectly shaped or start aging while new produce is being harvested. Consumers want the best looking stuff, of course, so farmers are used to feeding their imperfect items into the compost pile or as additives to chicken or pig food.

While I take responsibility for reducing food waste once it gets to me, I very much understand that the volume that ends up in my compost pile instead of my stomach is a teeny tiny amount of waste compared to other places along the food supply line. However, I still want to reduce that as much as possible. After all, I am also wasting my money to purchase food if I have to throw it away! One way is to be aware of those dates that are stamped or written on all commercially prepared foods and to understand them. Then you can apply the same concept to your own home-preserved items, whether they are frozen, canned, dehydrated, smoked or fermented.

One of the conundrums as a commercial food processor was that I had was to determine WHICH standard to use: “use by” or “best by”. There are NO guidelines from the government other than the mandate I use something!

“Use by” implies that the food is unsafe after that date. I know I stopped my youngest from pouring out a half-empty gallon of milk because the “use by date” had passed. You can imagine the “mean mommy” experience that required him to actually sniff (okay, it smells okay) and TASTE (do I have to? YES!) to teach that there is no magic event that instantly occurs that makes something bad at a specific date.

The mayo I purchased a month or so ago has a Best By date with plenty of time to use in other households but we don’t use mayo much……..

A word here that expiration dates on medication also has some wiggle room but I am not an expert on this. If you wonder if you can take something that “expired” 5 years ago……ask! A pharmacist is a good resource.

Back to food. I preferred to use “best by”. In the first season when I learned to can I put up some carrots. I dated my jar and never reached for it until a couple of years later when I was making soup and thought carrots would be a good addition but had none in the frig. I checked the seal….good. I looked at the contents inside the jar. The color was appropriate and there were no little bubbles of gas in the liquid, so far so good. I opened it….no bad aroma. So far all signs show it is SAFE to eat.

But when I put a fork in to pull a carrot out, it dissolved immediately into an orange cloud. It was certainly past the BEST time to enjoy it.

So, since then I put the date on the lid with what it is. (I am long past trying to convince myself I will remember what that jar of bluish-purple color jam is or which spice mix is in that tomato mix in that jar.) I put new jars behind any older ones of the same recipe when I store on my shelves. That way, the older stuff SHOULD be used first.

And remember, share. Seriously, if you have not eaten that jar of peaches that you put up in 1999, please toss it. If it’s from 2016, open one and if it is okay, plan how to use them. And do not make more until you do!

Our State Fair award-winning instant soup…and here is the one in MY cupboard, showing a best by date of last July. I know that means I prepared the mix in June from the pumpkins’ harvest in the fall of 2018. It is dry and good for at least 5 years or longer. That is one of the joys of dehydrated foods.

So, bottom line: besides the fact that this shows one more advantage that dehydrated foods hold longer safely than canned products, most are SAFE to eat beyond the date on the container, but the texture may be diminished the longer you move from initial processing.

REDUCING FOOD WASTE: Choosing how to start preserving food

We got our first puppy when I was three-years-old and quickly discovered I was allergic, but that’s another story. (I ALWAYS had a dog until worsening asthma made me….not have any pets again. ) A few months after losing my boxer who had been my wonderful companion during my single years, even tho her status reduced as I married and then had 2 kids…..she moved from riding shotgun to the back back of the station wagon with love in her heart and an eagerness to always be the best she could be……we decided it was time for another dog. My husband admitted to me that he really did not like boxers. What???? Okay…..so I found a book at the library how to pick a dog to fit your family. What a concept!!! It rated 50 breeds by 15 characteristics, so we looked to see how boxers were rated and we looked for that or better…and ended up with a delightful Australian Slehpard, the easiest dog I ever trained!!

My point? Dogs are not one size fits all and neither is food preservation methods. They require different techniques and skillsets and if you have never done any, you might as well start with the one that will be EASIER to learn, right?

Food preservation.

This article discusses the pros and cons of each preservation technique. After you read through it, ask questions and we can guide you further.

Juggle Juggle, but don’t drop the Tomatoes

In my weekly market reports recently I’ve been mentioning that we seem to be at the peak of the harvest. How can I tell? Simply, when I walk down Cowls Street as the farmers’ market is setting up I am amazed at the overflowing bins of produce the farmers haul there. Tomatoes of all kinds, peppers both sweet and hot, potatoes large and small, sweet corn, summer squash glowing green white and yellow, winter squash in acorn and spaghetti models, strawberries from everbearing varieties, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, plums, apples, and on and on and on.

In the past week in the Can-Do kitchen we handled 50 pounds of blueberries, 40 pounds of Asian pears, 30 pounds of tomatoes, 30 pounds of prune plums, and still have about 100 pound of onions to deal with. Today we were gifted about 20 pounds of peaches and the day is only half over.

asian pears in dyrerI keep our dehydrators running almost all the time now. The Asian pears are in there as I write this (plain and cinnamon) and the peaches will go in next. (Onions after that probably)

Mike, the guy who owns Cream ice cream and I have a good time chatting flavor combinations each week at the market. When I told him I was getting this gift of peaches (more coming this next week that are already planned for 2 types of jams) he suggested something which fed a need of his: powdered peaches he could add to ice cream in the winter.  So we will chop the peaches and then dehydrate it, powdering some, leaving some small chunks.  Mike can get some for his ice cream and you can get some for your yogurt or baking or other yumminess you like to do.

carmelized onionsThe onions……oh my. We add onions to our Loaded Pasta Sauce, so some will be used on Monday when we prepare that.  But I’ve made a few very small batches of caramelized onions for our home kitchen and one friend’s and I suppose you might be able to enjoy after I get some of these 100 pounds cooked up and then dehydrated.

 

So, you might ask, why was that “one friend” so lucky as to gain some caramelized onions?  Well, she presented me with some extra onions she had.  That’s pretty much all it takes and now she tells people she has her own “food processor.” One person responded, “oh yeah, I have one of those chopping machines too,” but you know it’s a tad more involved than that.

Anyway, lots to share with you. If you want to know if I can make something, shoot me an email at BethRankinOR@gmail.com. If there’s a safe way to preserve it, I’ll let you know.

tomatoes

Also, if you want Loaded Pasta Sauce, let me know how many and in pints or quarts. This has been a funny tomato season. It started late (really only about 3 weeks ago) and looks to be ending early. So I probably will not be getting a lot of tomatoes. Right now I have orders for 40 quarts so they will be fulfilled first. If you want some, tell me now. In a few weeks it will be too late.

 

 

Which Diet?

Recently we had a friend living with us who has diabetes and it made me realize how fragile our systems are when we stray into areas where we react or don’t deal with certain items that are available to eat.  I thought it is time to mention that Can-Do Real Food fits into any number of diets.

Preservative Free

Can-Do Real Food has a couple of tag lines and the one that will help you relax is “Nothing artificial added”. What preserves our food from spoilage is the sugar in the jelly recipes and the low pH (using lemon juice or cider apple vinegar) in our savory canned recipes. The dehydrated foods are dried either to a “bend” (like the fruit roll-ups) or a “snap” (used to powder the item for easy mixes and quick rehydration.

Because we don’t add preservatives, our foods are safe to eat but will taste best if eaten within the time frame indicated on the label. Canned goods are “best by” 13 months after preparing. Dehydrated foods are presented in bags that are rated for five years but I have noticed that some fruit roll-ups prepared over a year ago taste fine but feel dryer.   I use “best by” dates instead of “use by” or “good until” because the food is perfectly safe to eat afterwards, but again, the best taste or texture diminishes over time.

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Low Carb

Whether it is South Beach (the diet we followed while our friend was staying with us) or some other low carbohydrate diet, Can-Do Real Food fits in. Some foods that are vegetable based are without any doubt, allowed. Others, like the fruit snacks, need to be eaten with moderation.

 

Salt Free

We add no salt to any of our canned recipes. In fact, the decision to do that had an interesting side effect when we resubmitted our best selling canned Loaded Pasta Sauce for food processing approval the second year. We added zucchini to the mix (after all, we deal in farmer surplus and anyone who has ever grown zucchini knows how much of a surplus a plant produces) but we also removed the sugar and salt from the recipe. The original recipe had been given to us by a chef and we realized he might have been working with  the kinds of tomatoes that you find in supermarkets in the winter…picked under-ripe to red up during travel, the sugar in the recipe helps with the subdued flavor, as does the salt.  A few customers complained the pasta sauce was not as good but once we suggested they add salt to taste, they once again were happy.   “Add salt to taste” is now on that label.Image result for salt free foods

As we have developed the dehydrated Pasta Sauce, even I realized it has to have salt for better flavor.   Chatting with our backpacking experts made us aware how much salt people doing intense exercise need, so we are adding salt to the dehydrated mix.  If you are on a salt-free diet, do not eat this product.

 

Vegetarian/Vegan

 

We can assure everyone that there is no meat, no eggs, and no dairy in our products. First of all, we do not have a license to work with meat. To add a chicken flavor to our dehydrated Tortilla Soup or beef flavor to our dehydrated Hearty Borscht soup we use culinary yeasts with those flavor profiles. Culinary yeast is an ingredient that is usually marked as “natural flavorings” on labels. Our labels will tell you “culinary yeast”. Image result for vegetarian logo

The ONLY exception (and we’re not sure it will be offered this year) is our popcorn flavoring mix because that has included dehydrated butter or cheese when we made it in the past. It sold well, so we want to make it again, but currently not available.

 

Gluten Free

We’re not a bakery so this is pretty easy. The ONLY recipe that has been altered to stay gluten free is the dehydrated Tortilla Soup where we provide a small snack size baggie of corn tortilla chips to break into the hot prepared soup.

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GMO Free

As mentioned right above, we use corn chips instead of flour tortillas in the Tortilla Soup mix. We use only organic tortilla chips.  In addition, one of our farm partners, Bethel Springs Farm, is certified organic and everyone else we purchase surplus produce from grows in the organic style with no conventional spraying or GMO seeds. Image result for gmo free logo

Kosher/Halel

No, we’re not certified kosher or halel, but neither do we include any restricted ingredients in any of our foods. Not having a license to process meat, we stick to fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts in our kitchen.  So, you’re level of comfort with this category depends on how strict you observe the religious dietary rules.

 

If you have any questions about any ingredients, please contact me at BethRankinOR@gmail.com or message me on our Facebook page.