Spring is finally here, which might put you in the mood for some spring cleaning around the house. While you're at it, give the foods in your cabinets, fridge and freezer a once-over to make sure they're fresh and safe to eat.
Out with the Old
Sometimes it's obvious when to toss a food—like when you open a sour-smelling carton of milk, or spot mold on last week's forgotten leftovers. But sometimes it takes a bit of detective work on your part.
Check the "best if used by" and "use by" dates on food packages in your cabinets and fridge. If you find items past those dates, clear them out and make room for fresh replacements. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the "best if used by" date tells you when to consume the product for best flavor or quality—it doesn't refer to food safety. The "use by" date refers to the manufacturer's suggestion for the last date to consume the product.
If your freezer is filled with mysterious frost-encrusted packages, they might be victims of freezer burn. The contents might still be safe to eat, but quality is probably past its prime. Resolve to label and date the foods you freeze and rotate them so the oldest are in front and used first.
Can You See a Problem?
Generally, canned goods have a long shelf life when stored in a clean, dry and cool area (below 85°F). Immediately discard cans that are smelly, leaking, bulging, rusted or badly dented. Also toss jars that are cracked or have loose or bulging lids, or any container that spurts liquid when opened.
How long can you keep that can? The Food Marketing Institute offers these guidelines:
Two to five years for low-acid canned goods such as canned meat and poultry, stews, soups (except tomato), pasta products, potatoes, corn, carrots, spinach, beans, beets, peas and pumpkin.
12 to 18 months for high-acid canned goods such as tomato products, fruits, sauerkraut and foods in vinegar-based sauces or dressings.
Do Your Fridge and Freezer have Spring Fever?
To help keep foods safe and maintain quality, make sure the temperature in your refrigerator is set at 40°F or below. At warmer temperatures, bacteria that spoil foods can grow. Keep the freezer at 0°F or below. Use a refrigerator/freezer thermometer to make sure temperatures are in the safe zone.