Food Waste · Grocery Shopping · Reducing Waste · Saving Money

Don’t Throw Out That Hummus!

Billi Jo, my bestie, lives in rural North Dakota.  As such, hummus is not plentiful in her neck of the woods.  I suggested she drive into the nearest town where markets carry it and buy  half a dozen containers to bring home.  Her response was one I should have seen coming:  “They would spoil before I could eat them!”  BJ is the most attentive stickler to dates on foods I believe I have ever known.  I won’t lie, though, I used to be pretty bad about it too.  “Oh, this egg expired yesterday?  Toss it!”

This was bad for my pocketbook, and also a bummer when the rare urge hit to bake something and the eggs had expired 3 days before.  My beloved Mammaw insisted eggs were fine for a good stretch of time after they “expired”, however, given that her methods of research were not scientific, I sort of disregarded it.  Hubs and I had a similar argument over pantry foods and my insistence on pitching things as soon as the date had passed.

When I began to learn about living frugally, I learned pretty quickly that both Mammaw and Hubs were right and I was very wrong.  Many {most} foods are perfectly fine past the date listed on them.  The first thing to know is the difference between the dates you find on foods.  Most people don’t pay much attention to the three different types of dates and what they mean.  I know I certainly didn’t until I read about them!

The first type of date is the “Sell By” date.  This date tells the stores how long to keep the product on the shelves.  While you want to buy the product before this date, it does not mean you cannot use it after this date.

Next is the “Best By” date.  This date refers only to quality and not to food safety at all.  It is suggestive of the best flavor and quality.

The final date is the “Use By” date, also chosen by the manufacturer, is the last date which the item is believed to be at peak quality.

Just a couple examples, milk is generally fine until a week after the sell by date.  Of course, don’t take my word {Or Google’s!} for that, and sniff before you drink.  I have read that you can use sour milk for baking and things… isn’t that basically what buttermilk is?… but I don’t bake much and I’m not that broke yet.  Another example is eggs.  Eggs are good for 3-5 weeks after you bought them, as long as you bought them before the sell by date.  And you did, right?

As for canned food, the news is even better!  Acidic foods, like canned tomatoes, will come with a shelf life of 18+ months.  Foods with low acidity like peas or carrots will last up to 5 years.  The trick to this, however, is keeping them in a cool, dark place if possible.  You don’t want to leave them in a hot garage or attic.  Keeping them in a range of 50-70 degrees would be ideal.  I will pass on the caveat warning that a failing air conditioner and rising indoor temperatures can cause a problem with the food, however the AC in our apartment goes out at least once every summer, and maintenance can never fix it the same day.  And we have yet to lose any canned food to the problem.  Still, proceed with caution.

Obviously the rules on extended life beyond expiration dates applies ONLY if the food is handled properly.  If you open a gallon of milk and leave it sitting at room temperature for 24 hours, then no, I would not recommend drinking it anymore at all, much less a week after the sell by date.  Make sure things get put in the fridge or freezer as necessary to prolong their life and feel safe in the knowledge you can continue to enjoy the foods beyond the frequently arbitrary dates stamped on them.

In case anyone is on the edge of their seats about the hummus… my research has actually not turned up much in the way of facts on this.  One website said it was good for up to 10 days, unopened.  Another said it was good for up to a month past it’s “Sell By” date.  Then I took a look at the hummus sitting in my own fridge…

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And as you can see, my hummus doesn’t meet those standards, labeled “Use By 3/9/16”.  It is 2/1 and I bought it on 1/28, so obviously it stays fresh for much more than 10 days.  It also doesn’t have a “Sell By” date, so it’s not safe to bet it’s fresh for a month after the “Use By” date.  If anyone is able to locate more specific information on hummus, please let me know.  As it stands, all I’ve managed to do is demonstrate that hummus could conceivably having a fresh date for up to 7 weeks, giving her time to use 6 cups. I guess BJ and I will have to call it a draw. Nevertheless, I hope someone finds some useful information in here, to help with living frugally and reducing waste at the same time.

And while I’m on the subject of reducing waste, I managed to pull off a bit of that at dinner tonight.  With the best of intentions, I bought cauliflower and carrots to eat raw. Unfortunately I got reminded I really don’t care for raw cauliflower, nor do I care for carrots unless they are the very tiny baby ones.  What to do?  Turn them into a side dish with some leftovers!  Monday night we had bean tacos and, I made extra bean taco mix with the plan to turn it into beans and rice tonight.  Since I had the carrots and cauliflower in the fridge, I decided to steam it to soften it up, then tossed it with a bit of olive oil and salt before pouring it on a cookie sheet and putting it in the oven on broil to brown it up a bit.  Delicious!

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