Food waste is a huge problem nowadays, all the way through the chain, from animals eating prime proteins to make weaker proteins and ruining rainforest/ prairie/ pampas etc while they do it, to the overflowing bins emptied into smelly bin lorries going off to landfills that belch as much methane as the animals at the other end…(stern reminder: POSITIVE, OPTIMISTIC outlook please! adjusts headset and continues )
If you eat meat, you probably like it and don’t want to change that aspect of your diet, but do be aware there are plenty of reasons and recipes to be meatfree at least once a week! And you’re not a CARNIVORE, you’re an OMNIVORE (eat everything!) unless you’re a vampire (eek! run away!) so the rest of this post might still give you useful tips
General waste: there is so much an average person can do to streamline their buying/ eating/ waste management, from loose to detailed planning of meals for the week, pantry inventory (sharpen a pencil or fire up your psion spread sheets, all welcome here!) home production of herbs, the wonderfoods known as sprouts, fruit and veg grown in containers or mixed in your borders, cottage style, and your own compost (which if you follow my instructions will NOT smell
I grew up in a family where pantry inventory was taken for granted, it was a 20 minute round trip to the corner shop and an hour to the town centre and back, so keeping an eye on levels was automatic for my mother. The women on both sides of my family were good cooks and on my father’s side were in catering, so I took in a lot of information I now realise I am very lucky to have – which I am really pleased to share with you too
WHICH BEST BEFORE DATES MATTER:
MEAT, FISH, AND ALL PRODUCTS CONTAINING THEM unless it has been smoked or salted or dehydrated. Basically if it has been preserved using a method an in-tune indigenous/First Nationer would use, it’ll be fine. Freezing is fine, if you are sure the meat has never gone above -7, you can go past the date, the flavour will just be a bit less, but make sure you are cooking it in a stew and boil it thoroughly. Last dead flesh advice! Apart from, avoid it, it’s the biggest risk for bringing food poisoning into your home, there’s a reason for kosher rules/halal etc, they’re about staying alive in a hot climate when eating high risk items…meat attracts flies and flies spread germs, I put my cat’s dish in the fridge between feeds in the summer and still get flies, a problem I’ve never had before, grrr, something about the evergreen forest out the kitchen window…
DAIRY AND EGGS
EGGS If you’re not sure, salt and water test: mix 2 tablespoons of salt in a pint of COLD water and gently place the egg in, the further it sinks, the better, if it FLOATS, discard it, it’s old and potentially growing salmonella, yuck…
CHEESE/YOGHURT/MILK smell test first: if milk smells sickly, it will make you sick, pour it down the outside drain/toilet and you’ll likely see curds (gag). If cheese or yoghurt have pink or green on them, eek! PINK will make you ill, chuck it now, preferably in a sealed nappy bag! BLUE/GREEN this should be a flow chart! is it stilton or gorgonzola? enjoy! (but far away from me, heave…) is it cheap cheddar? cut the white and blue off and use the rest in something TODAY where it is baked or boiled – eg macaroni cheese. Is it dark green/blue? Out now…
When food dates came in, people were expected to still know how to use their own senses to check for signs of danger. With compensation culture, the dates are being made shorter and shorter until some common sense is beginning to rebel at the mountain of waste made by people who don’t know any better and sling the lot.
Try not to use perfume or smoke before you cook or gather ingredients, smell is your best friend for fresh or chilled food – of it smells wrong, it probably is, eg if it smells of fish (but isn’t!) it has a particular bacteria whose name I forget, but you don’t want inside you, take my word for it, please!
Wash fresh fruit and veg slowly (it’s enjoyable, honest!) and you will spot bruised or infested areas – eg butterfly eggs on cabbage leaves, those grubs that like berries will float out upside down and you can put them all in the compost bin where they are your friends!
CANNED/ JARRED FOODS:
these are the ones where the dates are normally a nonsense….
Anything preserved in a pint of vinegar is going to keep 5 years, maybe 10. It may lose some texture or be less tasty, but it isn’t going to hurt you. Make stew/ broth/ casserole and enjoy the tang! It will make your stew keep on top of the stove without refrigeration for five days unless you live in a sauna.
Anything stored in vegetable oil is going to keep a long time, eg garlic, olives, ginger etc. Again, it may lose a little flavour or texture, so check it and adjust amounts, but it is unlikely to hurt you, but if it smells the least bit fishy, out, otherwise, in that stewpot
Anything stored in brine (salty water) is going to be ok for ages past the date most companies give it, though it may go a bit soft. Sluice the beans/sweetcorn /whatever and then stand in cold water over night, drain and use in a boiled soup/stew.
Anything preserved in enough sugar is going to keep for 3 to 20 years.What is enough? Anything marked low sugar is NOT enough, unless it has vinegar or salt in it too, eg fruit compote might have raspberry vinegar in. Jam can keep for several years, if it has no mould, it’s fine. If homemade jam has mould on the top wafer, the waxed circle was put in upside down, the jars were not sterilised, or air got in. Mostly, you can scrape it out, pour the good jam into a bowl and test it by taste. You can now make wine from it or make an old fashioned steam pudding or make a fruit cake by the boiling method, or add the jam instead of sugar to a cake and bake it, make jammy tarts, porridge, dodgers…or a glaze for nut roast…lots of things as long as it involves heating the jam till it bubbles.
Um, this may seem obvious, but I’ll say it, as a young friend genuinely didn’t know: sugar and salt cannot ‘go off’. Honey maybe just might after several years if there was a lot of comb left in, but dried sugar, kept dry, will last to feed the post apocalypse roaches. Salt can get wet and dry again and be ok, er particularly if is is sea salt Sugar and salt are the mainstays of food preservation without big equipment, eg de-hydrators, freezers, and the move to low sugar and low salt foods instead of portion control has made for some odd dilemmas and waste problems.
First Nations people around the world (including europeans!) found out very fast that coating things in honey kept them really well, and that sweet enough fruit pounded into bison or deer/elk etc with lard, made pemmican, a dried meat that kept for a few months, saving the chore of daily hunting in hardscrabble springs.
Fruit/ herbal teas – if it looks and smells ok, it is!
Dried fruit will keep years beyond the bb4date, if it looks ok, it is ok. If it looks a bit dry (currants do this a lot) soak the fruit in an appropriate fruit tea for 10minutes before cooking, eg apple rings, soak in raspberry tea and bake in a victoria sponge, oh, nom, currants/sultanas in darjeeling/any brown/black tea or bilberry/elderberry, ever since I learnt to make Irish brack cake I do this anyway, fruit cakes and breads should be juicy not chewy…
Dried vegetables and de-hydrated vegetables (different processes) will keep a long way past the bb4 dates. Again, if it looks ok, it is ok. Beans and pulses are great proteins and therefore attract critturs, even more if they are organic, so keep them in plastic-ware or better yet jars or old biscuit tins. Plastic can be a problem in humid spaces or Edinburgh tenement flats (hiya Em! waves!!) If in any doubt, pour the rice/ wheat/ beans/ broth mix into a mixing bowl and stir. If anything looks nibbled, examine it and if necessary, sling it – mice droppings will give you nasty illnesses, so anything chewed needs to go out, and scrub your pantry and create better storage, set traps, get a cat etc ;) Cats were revered in Egypt because they kept the granaries – the wealth of the Pharaohs – safe
Anything with enough ascorbic acid will keep a way past the date. Basically it’s vitamin C, but I just found out the name translates from Latin as no-scurvy…cool! Scurvy is vitamin deficiency that long distance sailors used to get if they didn’t take barrels of pickled limes with them – preserving saves lives, not just jams! Sorry, I used to be a professional jam maker and still get very annoyed when people dismiss jam as a luxury confection, not a lifesaving food that gave people the strength to farm in the hungry gap of maximum tilling and sowing, and minimum fresh and stored food available. But I digress
Ascorbic acid is used loads in flours and food mixes, vacuum packed tortillas etc and it keeps them fresh and tends to see off the flour weevils – people still throw flour out a day over the date because it USED to get weevils…it can still, if it is organic/ super rustic, but it’s always worth checking. Open the packet, and pour it through a sieve into a mixing bowl. It may have clumped with age, but if nothing’s wriggling, it’s ok! It may have lost its mojo, so add a bit of baking powder, half what the recipe calls for, and all will be well
However if anything with flour in MAY have got wet or worse, been kept in a damp place, chuck it. It will have the wrong moulds in and you can get nasty fatigue conditions etc from it, so if the paper looks stained, out with it. Another digression – use anti-bax on your showerhead every couple of months for the same reason http://www.nhs.uk/news/2009/09September/Pages/Showerheadsandlungdisease.aspx
In the next installment I’ll explain good storage, good cleaning/ hygiene and give some handy use it up recipes
Meanwhile a link back to the perfect anti-waste foods: sprouted alfalfa seeds are amazing, I place my excellent vitamin and mineral levels (the doctor was politely surprised ) on their shoulders, and anyone with fatigue issues who got this far, they are so EASY!!! better than salad and no chopping/messing, oh joy!