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: What’s in the Crisper Drawer?

Just because I have been a commercial food processor whose mission is to reduce food waste does not mean I am innocent. Oh Lord, no. I wrote about my own fuzzy scientific experiments in the containers in the back of my frig before. But this is shameful because now, going to the supermarket to get more food is WORK. I need to gain more respect for the food I bring into this house for us to eat. Perhaps you do too.

So here is a photo of my crisper drawers before we used some of it for supper prep. Let’s talk about what to SAFELY do with tired veggies.

First, see that blue plastic “apple” shaped item? That is a tool used in a lot of commercial kitchens to absorb the gas that decaying produce emit, thereby theoretically slowing down rot. And, even tho it looks like it has not worked, it can….if I just replace the pellets inside…….. I picked this gem up at the Fancy Food show a few years ago. Only food professionals can attend and it is an amazing event held each January in San Francisco and in June (not this year probably) in Manhattan. So, when I keep the pellets inside refreshed, my produce in my crisper drawers last about twice as long as without. And you can buy it too, but we should not need to.

Those carrots embarrass me., but I’m owning up to their current state because I know I am not alone with this issue. I picked up 4 carrots (these will keep well, I thought) 3 weeks ago, and I already had 4 carrots. They do not keep forever, and the older ones are just at the point of no return. Tomorrow I will make another soup and the good ones will go in cut up and yes, we will get more carrots the next shopping. But not 8 and I will plan to use them.

And that is the key. Check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Plan your menu for the week and then make a list of those items AND THE QUANTITIES you need for that week. That way you won’t buy fresh stuff you will not use.

Make Shopping Lists

Then check the pantry again to look to add a couple more items from that master pantry list to expand your spices, or your pasta selection or some other shelf safe item that can help you make the best of what fresh you can keep……in good eating order.

Being Prepared

Here in Oregon we are not concerned about what Hurricane Dorian will do to us.  Our weather may be doing its seasonal shifting with more clouds and some rain expected over the next week, but nothing a slow sweep on the windshield can’t handle.Image result for weather oregon rainfall

I’m reading my Facebook feed and seeing friends along the east coast are in a state of readiness. One guy in the Virginia Beach area had been planning a week’s vacation on the Outer Banks and believe it or not, he is complaining his vacation was ruined. He also mentioned he has his house prepared for whatever would have come his way including making sure his generator has fuel.  He knows he got off lucky this storm.

source: The Washington Post

Another friend in Nova Scotia made a simple observation which I want to repeat: “Whether the experts are right about this storm or not, there’s one thing I do know. The time you spend being preparing for it is nothing compared to what you might have to spend if you don’t.”

Let’s look at that for a second. 

Image result for rail and I-84 closure in columbia gorgeHere in Oregon’s Willamette  Valley we have seen the effect of snow and of wildfire in the Columbia Gorge close the railroad line and I-84. With no transportation moving in that corridor, store inventories decreased a bit, but not badly because we are not isolated. We still could get shipments from the south, from California and beyond.

Imagine just for a moment if those lines are also restricted. Whether it is caused by some trade war or some earthquake.

Now, consider what you have in your house right now that you can eat.

Next consider what you have in your house right now to eat if you have no power for your refrigerator or your cooking.

Now, start preparing a bit. We’re heading into winter. We’re heading possibly into a recession.

I can’t teach you prepper tricks, but there are plenty of websites and youtube videos that can. What I can do is remind you that an alternative cooking source (your grill, perhaps) and a 2-3 week supply of shelf-safe food will go a long way to making sure you and your family will stay fed. Shelf safe food is found in cans, bottles, and plastic bags. Canned and dehydrated foods like Can-Do Real Food makes can provide easy meals and snacks.

Image result for stock your pantry From now until the downtown farmers’ market closes in October,   Can-Do Real Food will be preparing our Loaded Pasta Sauce and dehydrated meal mixes and soup including our Moroccan Tangine Meal Mix, Vegetarian Tortilla Soup, Kale and White Bean soup and more. We currently have jams, cooking sauces, salsas, and snacks, as well as some Mole Meal Mix.

Stock your pantry. And, if we have a normal year with no devastating emergencies, GREAT!!!

 

Stock Your Pantry

We seem to be in the height of the harvest now and it is a great opportunity for people to grab what they can to enjoy the tastes of summer through the winter. 2014-10-03 11.21.47Can you imagine tasting a summer peach in February?  The ones available in the supermarket are currently in flower in  South America. They will be harvested a bit green to make the 1500+mile journey to us without spoiling. They will be presented in the grocery store a bit hard and you will ripen them on the counter. When you taste it, it will be very pale in flavor compared to the tree ripened, freshly harvested fruit you can pick up in the market.

So what can you do?

You COULD consider eating in season. We used to do that when I was little because fruits and veggies grown overseas and brought in were very expensive. Then shipping prices dropped and here we are, expecting to eat watermelon in January. Consumer demand drives corporate decisions. If we the people who love our food to taste good decide we will not buy unripe produce during the winter three things can happen:

  • The stores will reduce what they bring in.
  • Local farmers probably will pick up the slack as much as the climate permit.
  • We learn that eating in season brings a lot of joy as we welcome a favorite flavor once again for the first time.

Image result for canning equipment canning toolsAnd there is a fourth, but it’s all on you: preserve the food available in season. You can freeze (easy), dehydrate (also easy and you can pick up a dehydrator that will work well for you for as little as $50), canning (a bit of a learning curve and you need a huge canning pot and attention to food safety issues), and freeze drying  (if you have a spare $3500 to purchase one, I want to use it for just 2 kinds of processing, please).

Of course, there is an easy way: shop Can-Do Real Food and stock your pantry.personal pantry

For example, right now we have a lot of dehydrated fruit offered as single types, combinations and fruit leather (roll-ups).  Can you imagine buying some watermelon strips now and holding them in your cupboard until January?  That will be a ripe full-flavored yumminess.

Image result for summer poeach winter peach comparison

The tomatoes began to show up in the market a few weeks ago and last week the farmers who provide surplus to Can-Do Real Food started sharing. I had enough to make salsa, some mild (golly gee, people, I ONLY used bell peppers…..and some mild Hatch chilis that barely stirred my palate, so be BRAVE) and some we loaded with jalpenos and more but Graham says it is “medium”. Heat lovers will have to taste to know if it provides enough pain/pleasure.  So, when you buy, buy TWO and put one in the back of your cupboard and forget about it……until the holiday gatherings. Then pull out the taste of August!tomatoes from BS

The next tomato project is the Loaded Pasta Sauce. Buy 6, get 10% off. Buy 8 and get your choice of a small (9 ounce) jar or a small dehydrated bag of your choice free. Buy 12 and get 15% off (and the freebie that you earn at 8).

Why do I suggest this? Because eating locally grown food supports our neighbors, the farmers who work from beyond sunrise to sundown in all kids of weather.  I want you to enjoy eating local food year-round and if you don’t preserve today’s harvest, take advantage of the fact that I do…with no artificial anything.cropped-mission.jpg