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Should I eat that?
September 20, 2013 11:45 AM   Subscribe

You Just Threw Out a Perfectly Good Gallon of Milk Because You Think the "Sell By" Date Means Something. Food waste is a huge problem. Globally, one-third of all food produced goes uneaten. In the US, that's up to 40% (pdf report). What can we do to prevent labeling confusion? And the most important question... should you eat it or is it expired?
posted by desjardins (136 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
AskMetafilter has known this for years.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:46 AM on September 20, 2013 [29 favorites]


OH I was just reading this.

Sell by dates, only meant as business-to-business information, should be made invisible to consumers; only useful labels that indicate when the food will likely spoil should be stamped on packaging.

I hate this option with a firey passion that I can't really articulate.
posted by elizardbits at 11:46 AM on September 20, 2013 [20 favorites]


Nope, sorry. I want to know when a food should not be sold. I would like the population at large to be educated about what those dates actually mean. But taking away information is not the solution to "people don't undestand."

It's just not.
posted by bilabial at 11:49 AM on September 20, 2013 [35 favorites]


I doubt that the "food insecure" are wasting that much food. While I wouldn't hesitate to throw out food that got a bit old, I was much less cautious when I was broke.
posted by modernserf at 11:52 AM on September 20, 2013


Also, by taking away the consumer-facing information, you're relying on the store to reliably pull anything that's past its sell-by date, even though customers won't notice when they fail. In my experience, it's tough enough finding stores that reliably pull products that are visibly expired, much less invisibly.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:52 AM on September 20, 2013 [14 favorites]


Yeah, I guess I feel like the food supply chain needs less obfuscation, not more. Also I tend to judge stores on efficiency and food storage/handling capabilities by the sell-by date. Like, if I go to buy some milk and there are 3 dozen half gallons on display, all with today as the sell-by date, I will assume there is some kind of issue with their ability to judge supply and demand and wonder if there are other corners being cut as well.

I admit that this is a justification that I have made up inside my head, having neither been a food supplier nor a food reseller.
posted by elizardbits at 11:53 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm sure Wal-Mart or the like wouldn't think of selling expired food. They can be trusted.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


For reference, my wife runs a convenience store and takes expired-food culling very seriously. Almost pathologically so. Stuff still regularly slips through the cracks. If you needed some specialized UPC reader to check sell-by dates, or whatever system the writer envisions, it could only get much worse.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:56 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Presumably, we have this information so that it can be used for product safety, but if the sell-by date is "business-to-business information", then why do grocers still try to get away with selling expired goods?

I was in PCC last week and they were selling cereal on sale for 50 cents less, but the sell-by date was the previous day.

When I shopped at Trader Joes and ALDI, I'd often find that perishable goods would go bad unless used within a day or two.

Granted, day-old cereal isn't going to kill anyone because it is only one day expired, but this seems like a situation that is definitely ripe for some strong regulation of supermarkets and food manufacturers that sell to them.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:56 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't find it via google, but I thought there was some kid that invented a strip that could be included in jugs that tells when it's bad by methane content or something. I'd think the smell would tell you....

I throw out food that has "expired" all the time, but it's mainly having a sensitive stomach and wanting to avoid food poisoning and bouts of diarhea that are my motivators. These are primarily dairy based items.

But salad dressing? I'm not sure how that could even go bad with all those chemicals in it.
posted by Big_B at 11:57 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are some pretty obvious ways to tell that milk has gone bad. A milk jug with negative or positive internal pressure is a pretty sure sign. Like those two from March of this year from our lab fridge that I just marched out to the bin.

Whether or not something without such an obvious sign is edible is one thing. Whether it is edible and won't give me horrible cramps and other more unmentionable symptoms is quite another.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:57 AM on September 20, 2013


I was going to comment on the suggested week beyond sell-by date for milk, but I kept on reading ... And it makes sense. Damn those handy milk-sized spaces on the fridge door!
posted by filthy light thief at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2013


Sell by dates, only meant as business-to-business information

[citation needed]
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:02 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I had a cashier at a convenience store gasp and pull back my bottle of diet coke when she noticed it had "expired" three days prior. She was VERY hesitant to allow me to purchase it. So, yeah. People need some education.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:03 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lactose-free milk lasts longer/has much later sell-by dates than regular milk. I think it is due to delicious dark magicks. But on the other hand, that means if it is a week past the sell-by date, it is 5-6 weeks old.

SCARY
posted by elizardbits at 12:04 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I doubt that the "food insecure" are wasting that much food.

Probably not, but the issue is that when we (society) buy more food than we use, we drive up costs for everyone, thus the "food insecure" are less able to afford what they need.
posted by desjardins at 12:06 PM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Poverty/Lazy living tip: if your milk's just on the turn, add a bit of extra sugar and you won't notice, if it's coming out in yoghurty lumps it's gone too far
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:07 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have a family member that would not eat ketchup that sat unrefrigerated for a couple months before it was opened. It had darkened slightly, and was "bad." This same family member will get underneath the older package of food, if there are two, and open the second one, because "it's fresher," despite my attempts to obviously rotate the food in the fridge. Despite the sell-by dates being both within range. If I don't want to have 2 different 3/4's eaten containers of cream cheese we have to run out completely, then I get complaints of there being no food in the house. This person absolutely will not eat anything beyond the sell-by date. Maddening.

I, of course, am the opposite. I'll eat canned food that's a year or two out of date, & will consider 3 years, depending on how badly I don't want to drive to the store. We had a situation though when a 24-ounce can of mango pulp exploded in the pantry, and my cavalier attitude towards expiration dates was the subject of great hand-wringing.

Also, the golden rule of mold. Cheese mold: okay! cut it off! Bread mold: bad.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:10 PM on September 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


When I once worked in a bar: 'Why is the tomato juice 3 for 1?' 'Oh it's just slightly past it's sell by date' *stares at bottle* 'that's a year past!' 'as I say... slightly'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:11 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


make yogurt
posted by likeatoaster at 12:13 PM on September 20, 2013


My parents assure me that the spam sitting in my pantry for 2 years is still good.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:14 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Milk that has been continuously refrigerated will usually remain drinkable for about one week after the "sell by" date on the package.

I don't think I've ever had milk get to the sell by date smell like something I'd WANT to drink.

What sort of milk is this, milk that's been kept at the perfect storage temperature every step from cow to fridge, with the jug unopened?

Or is the takeaway that I could drink that off-smelling milk if I really wanted to?
posted by yohko at 12:15 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


In short, trust your senses, not the labels.

I don't know about you, Superman, but I can't see bacteria. Some sell-by dates (meat) are no joke.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:16 PM on September 20, 2013 [15 favorites]


Or is the takeaway that I could drink that off-smelling milk if I really wanted to?

I think that some of us just smell milk worse than others. I know that I've run into milk that smelled horribly soured to me, that other people swore smelled fine. Sometimes I smell it within a couple of days of opening. It prevents me from drinking milk or using it for cereal.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:17 PM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think it is due to delicious dark magicks

In the case of Lactaid, this is mostly (entirely?) because it is ultra-pasteurized. You can do that with regular milk too.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:20 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


My parents assure me that the spam sitting in my pantry for 2 years is still good.

It's Spam. It could probably sit in your pantry for two decades and still be good.

Things like milk and fruit, on the other hand, are pretty easy to judge using obvious visual and olfactory data.

For example, any milk left in the refrigerator at my office for over five days is "no longer good," regardless of expiration date, but milk at my refrigerator at home will last up to two weeks.

And peaches and nectarines, regardless of expiration date, have a five-to-ten minute window wherein they are "good," and thus must be watched carefully.
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:20 PM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


I used to stock shelves at a grocery store. I can't imagine what that job would be like without sell-by dates, but if I had to guess, I'd say easier -- mostly 'cause we couldn't and therefore wouldn't have to rotate stock, so the store would be shut down for mould and bacteria and insects and general stench within a month.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:22 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


taking away information is not the solution to "people don't undestand."

It's just not.


This point seems to have been lost on our current crop of smartphone-addled desktop UX designers, alas.
posted by flabdablet at 12:22 PM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's Spam. It could probably sit in your pantry for two decades and still be good Spam.
posted by flabdablet at 12:23 PM on September 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


While we're changing food labels for the better, can we require clear and unambiguous country of origin labels?
posted by madajb at 12:26 PM on September 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


I don't trust my ability to smell milk freshness. Sometimes it smells like a dungeon on the second or third day, and sometimes it smells like nothing at all and I put it on my cereal and then wonder why it tastes metallic.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:27 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I buy the ultra-pasteurized milk too. It's fantastic to have milk that lasts for 2 months, since in our lactose sensitive house it only ever gets used for cooking.
posted by msbutah at 12:27 PM on September 20, 2013


Or is the takeaway that I could drink that off-smelling milk if I really wanted to?

I think that some of us just smell milk worse than others. I know that I've run into milk that smelled horribly soured to me, that other people swore smelled fine. Sometimes I smell it within a couple of days of opening. It prevents me from drinking milk or using it for cereal.


Milk always smells bad to me, but I also just really dislike milk. I have never understood people telling me to "just smell it" to see if it's good. It always smells sour to me.
posted by olinerd at 12:28 PM on September 20, 2013


The shelf-stable milk pods creep me out for some reason. I know they shouldn't, but it's probably because the dude who told me about that stuff is a conspiracy nut, and I'm doubtful of anything he says.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:30 PM on September 20, 2013


This same family member will get underneath the older package of food, if there are two, and open the second one, because "it's fresher,"

I'm the person who stocks the fridge and places the grocery order for work, and let me tell you: PEOPLE ARE AWFUL.

We get things like string cheese, bagels, cream cheese, yogurt, jelly, peanut butter, etc. I don't know if it's just one guy or several guys, but someone, SOMEONE insists on getting a "fresh" one every time. Will not use the open cream cheese. Opens an entire new sleeve of bagels every time they want a bagel (you know how many sleeves of only five bagels we have going in a given week? SEVERAL), rips a new string cheese from a not-yet-tapped sheet of string cheese, grabs a yogurt from the very back of the fridge to avoid getting one that we got the week before, EVEN IF THE SELL BY DATE ON BOTH OF THEM IS EXACTLY THE SAME.

It's fucking maddening. MADDENING. And then every week I throw away three open tubs of cream cheese with just a spoonful left at the bottom because not a single one of these jokers will demean themselves to eat the dregs of the container. But they won't throw it away, either, no! Just crack a new one, let someone else deal with the last smear.

They're all fucking sociopaths and I want to stab them in the face with the peanut butter encrusted knives they never manage to actually put in the dishwasher even though the dishwasher is closer to the peanut butter than the sink is AND YOU HAD TO WALK MORE STEPS TO BE LAZY. AAAUAAUGHHHHHHHH

breathe breathe breathe
posted by phunniemee at 12:31 PM on September 20, 2013 [114 favorites]


Those are the same people who will leave a single slice of ham in the delly packet because they think that this is somehow better than using the last of it.

they should die
posted by elizardbits at 12:33 PM on September 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish: "Also, by taking away the consumer-facing information, you're relying on the store to reliably pull anything that's past its sell-by date"

I have worked in the food supply chain, and have seen shady warehouses* get caught relabeling expiration dates on their products, or throwing expired (or nearly-expired) product at the bottom of a pallet (in the hopes that the customer wouldn't notice before accepting the delivery).

Perhaps we could adjust the expiration date on some products (eggs), or add more information "Sell by Tuesday; Consume by Friday." However, I have a whole lot of firsthand experience that tells me that less regulation and less information is a terrible fucking idea in this business.

The Jungle wasn't written that long ago. Even though the FDA has a long reach, I can unequivocally assure you that the industry will quickly regress to those standards if the regulation becomes any more lax. Hell, more than a few of the businesses are still controlled by same families as they were in 1906.

Overproduction of food is not the crying tragedy that it once was. Yes, it's an abuse of resources, but much more egregious excesses and abuses exist elsewhere. The proliferation of food safety and the stabilization of the agricultural supply is one of the most unappreciated and unheralded advances of the 20th century. Hunger now only exists as a political problem, and food is almost always safe to eat. If a crop fails, we deliberately produce enough excess to cover the shortfall.

*They're all shady. I've never witnessed another industry where every single player was so obliquely corrupt, dishonest, and trying to screw over its customers and business partners. We had to thoroughly inspect and weigh every single delivery we received, because all of the vendors were poorly-regulated scumbag liars.
posted by schmod at 12:33 PM on September 20, 2013 [25 favorites]


I don't have an opinion about the policy issues here but this seems a good place to say that I learned from the Dictionary of American Regional English that the traditional US word to describe milk that is not sour yet, but tastes like it's going to be sour tomorrow, is "blinky," and now I use that word all the time.
posted by escabeche at 12:34 PM on September 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


Sour-smelling milk usually tastes fine, especially if you use it in mac & cheese or something.
posted by wayland at 12:34 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have two containers of plain kefir in my fridge right now, both marked with a sell-by date of September 2.

The open one that I've been using since August (just a trickle left at the bottom) smells off now, and I won't use any of it, but it was fine a week ago when I used it in baking.

I just opened the other one and it smells perfect. As long as it keeps passing the sniff test, I'll use it. Anyway, at this rate, I think it will be evolved enough by next week to help me finish my WordPress site.
posted by maudlin at 12:35 PM on September 20, 2013


Lactose-free milk lasts longer/has much later sell-by dates than regular milk. I think it is due to delicious dark magicks.

Since the volume sold of Lactose-Free milk is much smaller, a different process (Ultra High Pasteurization) is used to keep it on the shelf longer. This also has the side effect of caramelizing some of the sugars, that's why Lactaid (and the like) taste a little sweeter than regular milk.
posted by sideshow at 12:37 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]



What sort of milk is this, milk that's been kept at the perfect storage temperature every step from cow to fridge, with the jug unopened?

I've drunk milk that is a week past the expiration date, and I am finicky about rancid and turned food. However, the milk we buy comes in big glass jugs which are less sensitive to temperature fluctuation, and are non-porous which means that they can be completely sterile before being filled. The milk is organic and comes from a real dairy (meaning cows and fields, not just a distributor) less than 60 miles away. I imagine that not only does this mean that the milk is fresher than the average supermarket milk, but that they may also have a shorter sell-by date to begin with. Less processing and shorter supply chains mean fewer opportunities for contamination to occur. So to answer your question: local organic milk in glass jugs.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:37 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Those dates are just a rough advisory in my house; Himself takes them very seriously, but unbeknownst to him he eats stuff all the time that's past its best-by date... because I don't tell him. I mean, seriously - oil & vinegar dressing? mustard? soy sauce? pfft.

The one I do take seriously is Kraft Dinner - you don't want to ignore the best-by date on the blue box. That wee packet of cheez food powder goes evil in a horrifying way. The smell and colour reminded me of my grandson's diaper after that time I fed him too many brussels sprouts.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 12:39 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


every week I throw away three open tubs of cream cheese with just a spoonful left at the bottom because not a single one of these jokers will demean themselves to eat the dregs of the container.

Have you tried buying one less tub of cream cheese per week? I see no reason why food wastage should be dealt with in a non-BOFH manner.
posted by flabdablet at 12:41 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Catering to the toddler demands of illogical whiners is a lot easier than trying to reason with them, especially in a work situation where you have very finite resources of give a fuck.
posted by elizardbits at 12:43 PM on September 20, 2013 [15 favorites]



Sometimes I smell it within a couple of days of opening. It prevents me from drinking milk or using it for cereal.

If you're drinking it out of a paper carton, the material easily collects milk around the edges of the opening, which then goes bad because you can't seal it. The milk inside can be fine, but the opening smells disgusting. This happens to a lesser extent with plastic, and even less so with glass. So, you're not crazy, it's just that you're not always smelling the milk you're using.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:44 PM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


I have two teenage kids at home so I don't even look at the date on milk. They and my wife will drink a gallon in about two days.

No one's told me that it smells or tastes funny. I don't drink that stuff myself. It's squeezed out of a cow. Gross.
posted by Cookiebastard at 12:45 PM on September 20, 2013


My office keeps a few perishables in stock for us - milk for coffee, cheese sticks, juice, etc. - and I have made it my mission to let everyone responsible for restocking (we take turns) to come find me if they're unsure about the thing's goodness, whatever the date on the container says date. A while back I found someone getting rid of bottles of fizzy water because the sell-by date had passed! I managed to keep my freakout to a responsible level.
posted by rtha at 12:45 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


"BOFH manner" means revenge and psychological torture, rather than reason and logic.

Granted, it's probably just as impractical.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:46 PM on September 20, 2013


Oh, lords...The missus and I get into constant...disagreements...over her rock-like adherence to those sell-by dates. She seems to view them as actually being "You will die in excruciating pain if you consume this after" dates.

She also seems to believe that a jar of mayo instantly becomes a killer if it's out of the fridge more than five minutes.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:51 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


breathe breathe breathe

AAUUGGHH!! How. Do. You. Take. It. I'd go disgruntled.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:51 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eee. I'll confess that I am quasi-phobic of spoiled food. I would like to not be this way, but I have no idea how to address it. Fortunately (by design, actually), I live two blocks from a grocery store, so I basically only buy perishables that will be consumed in the next 24 hours. Obviously this means I miss out on some of the economic benefit of buying in bulk, but I wonder if it ultimately kind of evens out because I have less waste to throw away.

Perhaps surprisingly, it means that I'm even less picky than some about "sell by" dates because I know I'm never going to keep that product around long enough to push it into the danger zone (cue Kenny Loggins).

Regardless, obfuscating the dates seems like it would make irrational people (like me) even MORE paranoid, not less... no?
posted by argonauta at 12:51 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I told this story a while ago in a different context, but it's much better here:
A few years ago, during the lull between Christmas and New Years', I walked down the little grocery on my corner to pick up a dozen eggs. Apparently they hadn't gotten their normal delivery for that week, because the refrigerator with the eggs was almost empty. I reached in and grabbed a case, opened it up, and one of the eggs was broken. Yech. Put it back. I grab another: same thing. I grab a third, and all the eggs are fine, but I notice that the date on the carton is in November. I grab a fourth, and the date on that carton is April. So I turn to leave the store without buying anything.

"You having some trouble over there?" the storekeeper asks me.

"I am," I told him, and explained.

He gets this stricken look on his face: this little store is his baby, his pride. He goes over to look. "These could be good until next April," he says.

Hmmm, maybe he has one carton of super-eggs that will stay good for four months. "I don't care which April it is," I said. "I don't want 'em."
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 12:51 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Have you tried buying one less tub of cream cheese per week?

Let me tell you something about working for crazy people. We also get berries every week. We went through a bout where people just stopped eating berries and I was throwing away rotted berries every week, so I just stopped ordering berries. No one noticed, no one cared. And then one day, formerboss (he is no longer with the company, thank god) said, "hey, where are the berries? I want berries, get more berries," and I said "sure, I'll put some on the next order." It was a Tuesday at the time and groceries come every Monday. Two days later he was all "where the fuck are my berries, I asked you to get berries, where are my fucking berries" and I was like "it's on the order for Monday." And then later that day, sub-boss had a sitdown with me and was like "formerboss has asked me to have a discussion with you about the problems you've been having doing your job." And I was like "whuhhh?" And sub-boss said, "apparently he asked you to order berries and you didn't?" and I explained to him how it worked, and it was forgotten. Until a month later when formerboss tried to fire me because I told him something he said was racist, and in the diatribe he gave me during the process, he brought up the fucking berries thing.

But formerboss is, as his name would imply, no longer my boss, so fuck him and his fucking berries.

I should also note that the following week, when the much-discussed berries were actually ordered and in the fridge, NO ONE ate any fucking berries. Not a single berry was eaten.
posted by phunniemee at 12:52 PM on September 20, 2013 [75 favorites]


You Just Threw Out a Perfectly Good Gallon of Milk Because You Think the "Sell By" Date Means Something.

No, I threw the remaining third-of-a-gallon out because it smelled off. The sell-by date was last week. It was Hood, if anyone cares. Their plastic jugs exhibit the dried-stuff-collected-around-the-spout phenomenon even before they're opened. I take off the cap-locking ring and rinse off the neck of the jug before I pour any out.

The food I've had freshness issues with was from BJ's. Whenever I buy one of their big bags of oranges, roughly half of them are rotting long before I've eaten the other half. If the sell-by date on their fish is less than three days away, I won't touch it. The one time I did, it was stinking through the wrapper by the time I got it home 20 minutes after it came from their cooler.



they should die

Seems like more than a little of an overreaction, there, elizardbits.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:52 PM on September 20, 2013


NO IT IS NOT PEOPLE SAY WE HAVE NO MAYONNAISE BUT THEY DON'T EVEN LOOK FOR IT THEY JUST OPEN THE FRIDGE AND WHEN NO MAJESTIC HAND OF GOD PLACES THE MAYONNAISE ONTO THEIR SAMMICH AUTOMAGICALLY THEY CRY BECAUSE THERE IS NO MAYONNAISE AND THEN THEY SEND ME ENDLESS HUFFY EMAILS WEEPING "WHERE IS THE MAYONNAISE" AND I OPEN THE FRIDGE AND THERE ARE LITERALLY 4 UNOPENED JARS OF MAYONNAISE RIGHT THERE

im mad
posted by elizardbits at 12:54 PM on September 20, 2013 [53 favorites]


we will never have mayonnaise in this office again, this i vow
posted by elizardbits at 12:56 PM on September 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


Why would anybody toss milk gone bad???
If your milk comes out lumpy just let it sit in the fridge for a while longer until it's fully lumped. Then separate the lumps from the liquid and voila you have made what we call "Quark" in Germany. It's tasty and works great as a bread spread. We did this at home for as long as I can remember and I'm still doing it now.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:57 PM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


WHEN NO MAJESTIC HAND OF GOD PLACES THE MAYONNAISE ONTO THEIR SAMMICH AUTOMAGICALLY THEY CRY

When divine intervention is expected, I believe prayer is called for.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:58 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


One thing about the plastic milk bags we use in Canada: they don't collect spout crud like bottles and cartons. They take up a lot less space in your recycling bin, too.

I recently tried saving fridge space by getting a 2L carton at a time instead of a 4L bag. (I drink a LOT of strong tea with a LOT of milk.) But given the spout crud, repeated issues where freshly purchased cartons tasted seriously off, storing it on the door, recycling bloat, and the fact that I was buying milk more often for a significantly higher price, I've gone back to bags with a sigh of relief.
posted by maudlin at 12:59 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I should also note that the following week, when the much-discussed berries were actually ordered and in the fridge, NO ONE ate any fucking berries. Not a single berry was eaten.

One order of plastic berries should make the whole issue go away.
posted by flabdablet at 1:03 PM on September 20, 2013 [30 favorites]


plastic milk bags we use in Canada

I still have trouble believing this is a real thing.
posted by desjardins at 1:04 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I actually really hope they start labeling food "unsafe to eat after" because then I could finally win the argument with my mother than sometimes food is unsafe to eat after a certain date.

I've cleaned out her fridge and pantry more than one time, while she argued with me that the salad dressing from 2011 was just fine to eat. She's gotten food poisoning more often than any human being should.
posted by inertia at 1:05 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course it's real, where do you think maple syrup comes from?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:06 PM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


If you've ever cracked into a truly bad egg - they are rare, and unmistakable - you will gain much more confidence in the ability of an eggshell to preserve its contents over time. Yes, even months of time.
posted by Dashy at 1:07 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Canada is just a story parents make up to scare their children.
posted by phunniemee at 1:08 PM on September 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


Canada is the only country that could have redeemed My Humps.
posted by flabdablet at 1:11 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


While we're changing food labels for the better, can we require clear and unambiguous country of origin labels?

Actually, in this age of area codes and zipcodes, can we have address of origin labels?
posted by oceanjesse at 1:17 PM on September 20, 2013


plastic milk bags we use in Canada

I still have trouble believing this is a real thing.


In the US, but granted we are sorta close to Canada here, but milk in plastic bags is available a number of places around my small city.
posted by edgeways at 1:22 PM on September 20, 2013


Milk always smells bad to me, but I also just really dislike milk. I have never understood people telling me to "just smell it" to see if it's good. It always smells sour to me.

I don't particularly care for the smell of milk, either, but with practice I've mastered the sniff test. Good milk smells "ehhh," bad milk smells "BWAAHHGHH."
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:23 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The sell-by date needs to be encoded in an extended bar code generated at packing time and scanned at purchase time. If something is too old, the cash register should just beep and refuse to sell it, and the piece of merchandise should be removed from inventory automatically.
posted by pracowity at 1:25 PM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Expiration/sell-by dates are calculated using conservative statistical probabilities. Basically, a certain level of bacterial population is deemed "at risk" for foodborne illness or spoilage. Then, the amount of time it takes for said bacterial population to grow on the food in question is measured, and statistical tests (in the same vein as a 95% probability test) are run to determine when the total number of colony forming units will be within hailing distance of the aforementioned population.

In short, it's an estimate, and variables like storage capabilities, supply chain length, and factory cleanliness affect the risk of spoilage.

(Note: While I did look this up once, I'm not employed by the food industry so I don't know if I got the details correct. However, I do work in an FDA-regulated industry, and statistical probability of risk is the norm. Thus, I choose to drink milk up to about a week past the date on the carton. And dried foods are fair game until I notice any weirdness. Microbiology knowledge gives me license to act in ways people find disgusting.)
posted by Turkey Glue at 1:28 PM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Admit it: When you see milk past the "sell by" date in your fridge you're apt to skip the smell test and throw that stuff out. What you might not know is that the date is actually meant for store stockers to keep track of product rotation. It offers little indication of when the milk may actually sour.

(Snark re tone: What I "actually" know is that the point of stores keeping track of product rotation is to...uh, prevent spoiled food from being sold.)

Between the combined number of people who have either had the experience of allegedly fresh milk curdling in their coffee, and those who have taken advantage of heavily discounted past-date goods to save some cash, I'm pretty sure that most people understand that a "sell by" date or a "use by" date is more of a risk-assessment gauge than a magic litmus test for whether the milk is sour or not.

The authors of the NRDC study, titled "The Dating Game," place the blame on inconsistent and irrational labeling laws, which tend to be nonbinding: "This convoluted system is not achieving what date labeling was historically designed to do—provide indicators of freshness. Rather, this creates confusion and leads many consumers to believe, mistakenly, that date labels are signals of a food's microbial safety. This unduly downplays the importance of more pertinent food safety indicators."

Perhaps some blame could be reserved for the other government agencies who teach such conservative food safety guidelines that following them requires consumers to suspend any reliance on common sense, including the advice to never use goods past their sell-by date.

Recommendations for preventing food-borne illness at home have a lot to say about washing cutting boards and cooking temps for meat, eggs, and dairy and keeping everything in the refrigerator. They don't have much to say about the manufacturing and packaging practices that have contributed to contamination in pre-prepared packaged grocery items. You can remind people to wash the pre-washed lettuce, but not the (pasteurized!) potato salad.
posted by desuetude at 1:32 PM on September 20, 2013


Sour-smelling milk usually tastes fine, especially if you use it in mac & cheese or something.

Milk--and also eggs--just on the verge are actually really good when you bake with them. I know, sounds gross, but it's true.
posted by Hoopo at 1:39 PM on September 20, 2013


I work in the food industry, but not in food tech (who are the real experts on this stuff).

Food normally makes its way around the system pretty quickly, but we know every so often there will be outliers. Maybe the lorry delivering to the store gets stuck in traffic, or you're delivering to 20 convenience stores and every time you open the lorry the cold air gets let out, or there's not many staff at the store so the delivery can't be put away quite as soon as it should be, or the customer puts the item in their basket and spends an unusually long time walking around the store, or the product gets stored in an unrefrigerated car boot for a few hours.

The best before date is set so the food is safe to eat even in those outlier cases. But because the outlier cases are fairly rare (how rare? Depends on how good the company's supply chain is) in the majority of cases there's a fair bit of leeway.

Of course, this is for fresh things like chicken sushi that go off quickly. For some products it's a mystery to me why there's a best before date at all.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:45 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


chicken sushi

what fresh hell is this
posted by elizardbits at 1:46 PM on September 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


what fresh hell is this

looks like this place is still open.
posted by junco at 1:48 PM on September 20, 2013


(I vividly remember reading the restaurant notices in that issue during a trip to nyc and becoming extremely nauseated when I got to that one.)
posted by junco at 1:49 PM on September 20, 2013


The supermarket near me sometimes has samples of chicken sushi (it is cooked, they promise). It's about thirty percent panko crumbs and orange-colored flavor mayo, so not really much different from most grocery store sushi. Verdict: OK I guess.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:54 PM on September 20, 2013


elizardbits: "what fresh hell is this"

Torisashi and Toriwasa
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:03 PM on September 20, 2013


There used to be a place by my house that did chicken teriyaki sushi--chunks of (cooked) dark meat in a sticky teriyaki sauce, cucumber, and scallion. It was amazing. The place closed when the matriarch got sick and they returned to their native Japan because America + small business + serious illness = bad news for everyone, including people who were really passionately unreasonably devoted to this little strip mall sushi joint that was unbearably delicious and cheap. They once also whipped up a massive, massive platter of assorted vegetarian rolls for me when my grandfather died and we didn't have any easily accessible vegetarian alternatives to the dreaded cold cut platter. I think that I tipped them like $35 bucks on a $75 order because I was so grateful.

Also, I had no idea that clumpy milk became quark! This is a thing that will improve my life.
posted by MeghanC at 2:04 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


We live almost entirely off of free food that is beyond the "sell by" date. It's true that sometimes it goes bad faster than retail food, but there's always plenty more to replace what we end up throwing out.

About the only things I buy are staples for cooking (oil, flour, spices) and raw milk from a local farmer, so as a household we have a very low grocery bill.

It requires us to get creative with our cooking in the winter (in the summer it's easy, with so many fresh garden vegetables), but I see that as improving my skills in the kitchen.
posted by rocketman at 2:11 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


In short, trust your senses, not the labels

Let's just say that some of us have extremely crappy senses. I have, more than I care to admit, eaten my cereal with milk that tasted vaguely metallic because I woke up with a stuffy nose and couldn't smell anything. Then my roommate, boyfriend, or husband (depending on the time of life this incident occurred during) would go to eat their own cereal and gag at the smell of the millk.

My nose is vicious evil liar and I seriously never trust it. When I live alone for any significant amount of time, I just stop buying milk, mayo, or meat products that I don't intend to eat that night. Because honestly, by the time my nose can smell the inherent death in the rotting food, it's already gotten up and walked out the fridge.

My dad on the other hand, has a sniffer that a bloodhound would envy and he tosses food away like you wouldn't believe. It worked out great when I was a kid, because my mom would give me the hamburger that was a day past it's prime while she and Daddy ate something else for dinner. I was in my twenties before I found out it was because she didn't want to waste the food and knew I couldn't taste it under all the mustard anyway.
posted by teleri025 at 2:16 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


The sell-by date needs to be encoded in an extended bar code generated at packing time and scanned at purchase time. If something is too old, the cash register should just beep and refuse to sell it, and the piece of merchandise should be removed from inventory automatically.

I do data-synchronization work for a large-ish food manufacturer and I promise we're working on it. This sort of thing is mostly used on the case level rather than the retail unit level at the moment, but within 5 years you're going to see this sort of expanded bar-coding become ubiquitous in grocery stores.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 2:18 PM on September 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


I guess part of it is connected to our obsession to have everything pure and germ free.

It gets really weird when you're in another country. I know it's not logical to eat street side jian bing in China that uses eggs and other ingredients that only sit in the shade all day and then be in the US and throw out refrigerated eggs that are only a week past the sell by date.

But I'm probably going to continue doing that the next time I travel and smell something good.
posted by FJT at 2:18 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a former grocery stocker, I remember that vendors used codes on their products in place of sell-by dates, allegedly for this very reason. It also meant that only the vendors could check dates on their product, and they were as good about that as they were anything else, which is nothing (holy shit do grocery vendors tend to suck)
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 2:19 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mostly use milk for coffee, and unless it's gone lumpy, the milk will do fine in the coffee. If it smells a bit sour, I pour some into a glass to check for separation, then let it sit for a few minutes. Usually the sour odor will disperse, as it is mostly a factor of milk that has dried around the edges of the bottle/carton/jug.
posted by tavella at 2:20 PM on September 20, 2013


what fresh hell is this

Is it? You sure it's supposed to smell like that?
posted by tigrrrlily at 2:20 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Having finished reading the rest of the articles, I do sort of wonder how much of this is heavily influenced by our collective ever-growing insistence on "perfect" food. I freely admit to being part of that--if I can buy my apples for a buck a pound from the orchard, I don't care if some of them are bruised/bee-stung/only good for cooking with, but if I'm paying the outrageous $3.49 a pound that my local supermarket wants for the exact same apples, you're damn right that I'm going to stand there and carefully examine all the apples before agreeing to purchase them. And woe betide the poor cashier who drops my avocado, or puts a can of beans atop my bread, because you're damn right I'll be holding up your line while I go find a replacement.

I'm not totally sure where I was going with that, I guess, other than the vague feeling that part of the grocery-store waste issue is more about people feeling reluctant to spend their hard-earned money on food that is, even just cosmetically, less than perfect. It's unfortunate that the most perishable food is the most expensive, and also (arguably) the healthiest, because effectively ensures that it will continue to be wasted in great quantity.
posted by MeghanC at 2:23 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hairy Lobster, in Wisconsin, Quark is called "farmer's cheese".

Wow, I haven't had that for, like, 25 years!

What I find difficult in my current neighborhood is finding decent fresh vegetables. They seem half-spoiled already from the chain grocers, and the one greengrocer off the main drag is lousy. I saw ordinary cucumbers there for over a dollar each a couple of days ago. As I'm only one person, I end up buying a lot of frozen vegetables, because with the refrigerator that came in my new flat, if I don't eat the fresh veggies in two days, they'll go bad in the crappy crisper. I can't shop like a Euro and buy fresh food every day, nor can I spend 2 hours several days a week going to and from the Trader Joe's on the UWS. Even the ALDI is a 45-minute bus ride away on the other side of my borough.

I miss my old neighborhood. The grocers were good, nearby and reasonably priced. I could buy my milk in glass bottles. The greengrocer was EXCELLENT - and cheap. Now I live in an area that's not quite a food ghetto, but it reflects the socio-economic status of the neighborhood, and there's a LOT of crappy food and boxes and bags of processed and junky food on the store shelves here.
posted by droplet at 2:27 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


more detailed quark making instructions:

1) let milk clump fully (better creamier milk will of course make better creamier quark) so that the lumps have fully separated from the whey (greenish nasty looking cloudy liquid). Unlike what I mentioned above you can just let the milk sit out in room temperature... it'll happen faster that way.
2) line a big enough colander or sieve with a clean dish towel
3) pour lumpy milk through it
4) let this sit for 24 hours or, better, tie up the dish towel with the lumps in it and hang it over the sink or a pot or something for 24 hours
5) once the whey has fully drained, transfer the quark into a suitable container that can be sealed and put it in the fridge. Tastes great with herbs or berries, awesome when spread on bread with honey on top

(for the more adventurous: there's also uses for the whey so you don't have to discard that either)
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:02 PM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


My love for cheese versus my disgust for curdled milk. I'm not sure what to think.

Wait: can you make mozzarella from nasty milk?
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:32 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Cheese *is* curdled milk! Tasty, tasty curdled milk.
posted by rtha at 3:36 PM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Usually mozarella is made by using citric acid and rennet to curdle the milk. So you're not really using "nasty milk" for that but milk that hasn't yet turned sour. That's also the difference between cottage cheese and traditional quark. Quark is made just from, uh, self-curdled milk, no rennet or anything else added. I think using rennet in the process makes the curds more stretchy then quark curds. Pretty much every cheese making process involves rennet.

So, no, you're not making mozarella with "nasty milk". But, yes, it's actually very easy to make (20 minutes or so) if you have good milk, citric acid and rennet.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:44 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah, also one more thing and then I'll stop with the quark derail: UHT pasteurized milk won't work. It won't curdle.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:46 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that most people understand that a "sell by" date or a "use by" date is more of a risk-assessment gauge than a magic litmus test for whether the milk is sour or not.

While that probably holds true on Metafilter, I would honestly dispute that claim for the public at large. My argument is not that people are stupid, but that people lack the information or haven't been trained to think critically about what information we have.

For instance, take the trust that people hold in advertising. Subway is widely seen as a healthy, natural, "fresh" meal. I don't think that's based on a reasonable heuristic because their sandwiches use salty, fatty processed meats, their bread is made on an industrial scale, the vegetables used are bred for packing, their sauces are high in sodium and calories, etc. But the government can't regulate a term like "healthy" or "fresh", and compared to a greasy Big Mac, an Italian BMT (with lettuce!) probably feels pretty crisp.

So, I think people place a lot of singular trust in the words on our food labels. "All natural" must mean that something is healthy. "Reduced fat" means good for my diet. "Diet" Coke because I want to watch my waistline (nevermind the appetite research that exists).

I don't think it's a big stretch to go from belief in food buzzwords to belief that milk goes bad once the clock strikes midnight. And, frankly, why or how would the average person know or care about bacterial growth, supply chains, and theories of probability? They would be a wiser consumer, but their priority is probably peace of mind that their food isn't tainted.
posted by Turkey Glue at 4:01 PM on September 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


Just yesterday I had to seriously consider if I wanted to eat a can of tuna fish that was 3 years past the expired date (Which is terrifying because I'm pretty sure that means it made two different moves...) and felt a bit bad when I threw it out. I'm always amused when people act like that food goes from 100% edible to OH MY GOD IT WILL KILL YOU just because some stamped date changed.

And milk? If it tastes fine it's fine. If it tastes sour throw it out, but really even then it's fine. You are going to known when milk that's bad enough to make you sick long before you drink it.
posted by aspo at 4:10 PM on September 20, 2013


phunniemee, a fun fact about your story is that it becomes even better when you assume your former boss is a little grizzly bear
posted by Greg Nog at 4:10 PM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


I hope everyone understands that in prepared foods, "reduced fat" usually means "increased sugar."
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:21 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Torisashi and Toriwasa

JAPAN NO WHY

I mean literally every other popular meatstuff on earth, including fish? These all make sense to me, as when raw they have a very similarly pleasing texture as they do when cooked. But raw chicken? It is slimy and vile and weird and I just don't approve, japan must go to bed without any pudding.
posted by elizardbits at 4:30 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Silly customer, Twinkies never expire"
posted by Renoroc at 5:04 PM on September 20, 2013


Perhaps surprisingly, it means that I'm even less picky than some about "sell by" dates because I know I'm never going to keep that product around long enough to push it into the danger zone (cue Kenny Loggins).

You see people! This is how we get listeria.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:54 PM on September 20, 2013


My husband and I have a running battle about cold cuts. He insists they go bad after 2 days. I say you can TELL when your ham has turned. If it smells fine and isn't tacky or anything, it's fine. He's the one always buying more American cheese because he swears the stuff I bought the week before is bad. It's cheese! It's ok! I mean, I wouldn't serve fuzzy green bacon, but some stuff you can just relax about.
posted by Biblio at 6:18 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


[a bunch of stuff phunniemee said about ordering berries]

asgfsfgfajkgsafhjsfasfasfa;f;ljsaf;jk, I have worked for these fucking berry people, they are horrible
posted by threeants at 6:27 PM on September 20, 2013


also, where can I get one of these jobs where free food is stocked all the time, I didn't even know that was a thing. CURSE YOU NONPROFIT SECTOR
posted by threeants at 6:28 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Looks at you all with suspicious I'm pretty sure milk doesn't go bad. It isn't like 4L will last me more then two days anyway.

(Ok, I have seen bad milk. One time we got some home from the store and it was green-yellow. Dayglow kinda colour. I'm pretty sure that was bad. Oh, and I left some in a lunchbag over the summer once, that was bad. Only two times I've seen it though. (Before I moved out, we were going through something like 12 litres a week at my house, if not more).

Now, meat and eggs are the hard ones. Fruit goes bad when it attracts flies, has stuff growing on it, or is all squishy and disgusting (depending on the type). Bread and cheese are bad when they turn fuzzy. But meat? Generally I just make sure to buy it then eat it within the next few days, and always eat the fish and chicken first. Eggs though....I like eggs, but only once and a while. So they sit in my fridge for ages. Recently I found eggs from August that I was sure would be bad, but the date said I still had a few days, and they sunk in water so *shrug*. However, I'm told that putting them in water isn't very reliable.

Also, is it ok to eat the rest of the berries, even if some are a little fuzzy? I did once and didn't get sick, but it takes WAY less bacteria than you can detect to make you sick...
posted by Canageek at 7:02 PM on September 20, 2013


Globally, one-third of all food produced goes uneaten. In the US, that's up to 40%

One thing that bothers me about the frequent editorials and head-shaking about food articles, is how it presupposes there's some condition where 80-90% of food isn't wasted, and also presupposes that this is bad. Is it bad? How does this stack up internationally, or with times in the past?

While the notion is appealing, I feel that they haven't really thought through the sweeping and fundamental changes this would engender in our entire supply chain - and culture.

I would argue that the entire western culture of shopping and eating would have to radically change to accommodate much less food waste. The entire grocery and food system is predicated on large amounts of waste, I feel - and that's not even getting into the cultural aspects.

I don't know, I still feel there's a bit of "but what about the starving kids in Africa?" to discussion of food waste. But there's no meaningful connection between chucking out shitty lettuce and those kids. The connection is a vast, global, complex, one that can't be simply addressed without really shaking up society.

We see this in Australia with landfill as well. People are really down on landfill, but actually we have tonnes of room here for rubbish and will never run out. There are reasons to reduce landfill, sure, but they rarely make it into discussion and the utilitarian angle that landfill, as landfill is not really a big deal here, gets skated over.
posted by smoke at 7:13 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Canageek you'll know if an egg is bad, believe me, you will know. *shudder*
posted by smoke at 7:13 PM on September 20, 2013


CURSE YOU NONPROFIT SECTOR

I work for a nonprofit! (It is the only non-shoestring nonprofit I have ever worked for.)
posted by rtha at 7:22 PM on September 20, 2013


Hey does anyone besides me remember the old routine on the Letterman show "Name That Expiration Date"..? He would feed expired foods to the band.

But this isn't really funny. I am poor enough to occasionally visit the local food bank. You have to check expiration dates carefully, because "donors" will dump pallet loads of expired food. I remember getting some cookies once, and when I took them home and tasted them, they had a distinct, strong taste of ammonia. They were only a month past expiration, but absolutely inedible. I went back again the next week and they were still on the shelf. I spoke to someone and told them, you can't give this expired food to people, it will make them sick. It made me sick. They didn't care. Sheesh.

Also yes you do have to watch the expiration date on canned goods. I once had some expired soup that tasted strongly metallic.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:33 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Back in 2002 or so, I briefly took a part time second job as a (mumble)-K clerk. Well, my last marriage was breaking up, I liked the lady who managed the local (mumble)-K store, she started stocking my obscure brand of cigarettes in carton quantities, and it was better than going home, or working late, unnecessarily, at my real job.

About 3 shifts after starting to wear the blue smock and name tag, I noticed that the open reach-in style milk case was full of dead flies. They flew in the front door of the store with every customer coming in, circulated around the store, eventually hit the cold air downdraft in the open front style milk case, cooled down to a temperature where their flight muscles couldn't work, and died en masse, leaving their carcasses in the bottom of the refrigerated case.

I thought to myself "Who would ever buy milk from a case filled with dead flies?" I discovered through observation of expiration dates, and conversations with fellow employees, that milk sales were never very good in that store. And as a new employee with Something to Prove to Management, I determined to rectify what I saw as The Problem.

So, on a Saturday when there was a second smock in the store, I talked them in to managing the register alone, while I got a bucket of hot water, some rubber gloves I brought in from home, and a few paper towels I was willing to write off to shrinkage. I worked on that case for 3 hours straight, cleaning out thousands of dead insects, polishing long neglected chrome, and wiping every powder coated surface until it gleamed.

Within 48 hours of that effort, there wasn't a single container of any kind of milk product in that store! There were a few more dead flies, but I got them out with one quick swipe of a paper towel. The nice lady store manager was thrilled with my initiative, and quickly ordered more milk products. The milk products route driver was suddenly our best buddy, but he lamented that other stores in our chain weren't moving as much product as we were, and asked if, before increasing his route orders to the dairy, he could bring soon-to-expire product to our store, from our sister stores, for quick sale.

We said sure. Milk products were flying out the door, and we needed supply, right away. As long as the products the route driver brought weren't outdated, we were happy to help him, and our sister stores. So he did, and we did, and I kept wiping up flies out of the open case at least daily, and our store sales of milk products set new records.

And then, because of our sudden success in selling milk products, our district manager told our nice store manager lady great news. "You're getting a new, glass door front dairy case, just like you have for beer. With your new volume, we can afford new equipment, and you'll be getting bigger deliveries, too. You should never run out of milk, now! ... Besides, we've known for years that those old open front reach-in coolers were nothing but big dead fly traps."
posted by paulsc at 7:57 PM on September 20, 2013 [22 favorites]


The better solution is to create more airflow from the HVAC systems near the front doors. That would create positive pressure inside so that when the doors open, air flows out and flies stop trying to fly in. Mrs. VTX used to help train commercial exterminators.
posted by VTX at 8:42 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eggs. To tell if eggs are still good, put them in a glass of water. If they float, they are bad - don't eat them. Store eggs are regularly weeks old when you get them in the US.

Milk - we get pricey milk with the cream on top. I hate to waste, so on the rare occasions when it goes bad I make pudding - usually tapioca in the crock pot. I figure that cooking long enough will kill the bad stuff.

As a kid we canned a lot of food, including many jars of tomatoes. We NEVER ate any jars that went bad (tops bulging up, white stuff at the top of the jar,) because it might be botulism, and no amount of cooking (we were told) would make it safe.
posted by 101cats at 8:42 PM on September 20, 2013


http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/01/26/meet-ben-simon-recovering-unsold-food-for-the-needy/
http://www.foodrecoverynetwork.org/
posted by spbmp at 8:49 PM on September 20, 2013


"The better solution is to create more airflow from the HVAC systems near the front doors. ..."
posted by VTX at 11:42 PM on September 20 [+] [!]

I can tell by your comment that you've never worn the blue smock and nametag for (mumble)-K, nor has your talented spouse. That's fine by me, and I rejoice in your good fortune; however, (mumble)-K has studied the problem extensively, and thinks that blasting hot, sweaty customers with cool air immediately upon entering the store will decrease Slurpee sales by 19%, on average, to say nothing of what could happen to beer sales, which is all that keeps the gas pumps going, most days.

Thank whatever-deity-which-to-you-seems-prudent, there's a long expiry date code, if one is ever printed at all, on beer.
posted by paulsc at 8:53 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't believe nobody has posted this yet (or maybe I just missed it):

http://grandpappy.info/hshelff.htm

Some choice excerpts:

Among the canned food items retrieved from the Bertrand in 1968 were brandied peaches, oysters, plum tomatoes, honey, and mixed vegetables. In 1974, chemists at the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) analyzed the products for bacterial contamination and nutrient value. Although the food had lost its fresh smell and appearance, the NFPA chemists detected no microbial growth and determined that the foods were as safe to eat as they had been when canned more than 100 years earlier.

Also:

A canned food shelf life study conducted by the U.S. Army revealed that canned meats, vegetables, and jam were in an excellent state of preservation after 46 years.
posted by number9dream at 9:51 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeesh, bad eggs. I only find one every couple years, but I usually break my eggs into an extra little bowl before I mix them in with everything else, because yeesh. (Helps with shell fragments, too.)
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 10:28 PM on September 20, 2013


Canageek: Fuzzy stuff on berries is probably not bacteria but fungus/mold. If you look carefully you can kinda tell if there are fruiting bodies because the fuzz eventually grows these tiny little dots at the Tips. At that point i guess you might have spores on the non-fuzzy ones. If I don't see fruiting bodies I usually sort out the fuzzy ones, wash the rest and eat them. We weren't too worried about fuzz at home. If hard cheese got moldy/fuzzy spots my mom would just scrape it off. In my house cheese doesn't last long enough to even get to that point.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:42 PM on September 20, 2013


My dad was around right after WWII in a country where people were actually starving due to food shortages. In his later life, he couldn't throw any food away, mold be damned. I think a lot of people of his generation were like that.

Still, I wonder if there would be any significant positive effect from using food more efficiently. I mean, it's not like it is a limited resource like oil that we will run out of eventually. And it's impractical to ship the surplus food to countries where it is needed, too. So what would actually change if food waste is reduced to zero? Possibly less jobs in agriculture and the rest of the "food chain", slightly reduced profits for big food corporations and their stockholders, a few more bucks in everyone's pockets, but that's about it, no?

Should you eat it?
- No, you're fat enough already. Just throw it away.
posted by sour cream at 1:00 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


My husband and I have a running battle about cold cuts. He insists they go bad after 2 days. I say you can TELL when your ham has turned. If it smells fine and isn't tacky or anything, it's fine. He's the one always buying more American cheese because he swears the stuff I bought the week before is bad. It's cheese! It's ok! I mean, I wouldn't serve fuzzy green bacon, but some stuff you can just relax about.

Your refrigerator isn't cold enough.

I admit, I'm a food safety snob / OCD. There IS something that changes about cold cuts after a certain amount of time. Maybe it isn't unsafe, but it is different and unpalatable. My rule is that things should taste/smell/look the same. If the ham was the same for a week, and now it isn't the same anymore, it's time to go.

And yes, someone above mentioned that things spoil at different rates depending on whether they were opened or not. Sealed packages are more or less anaerobic, and once oxygen gets in there, the race is on. That last lump of cream cheese in the container IS more spoiled than its similarly dated, but unopened, sibling. (People who don't throw it away before opening a new one are assholes, however.)

Part of my condition comes from working in a fast food restaurant for a while. Their supply chain was such that they got fresher foodstuffs than any grocery store I've ever seen. The bags of lettuce were the real kicker for me. The rule was not to use or accept for delivery any lettuce with moisture inside the bag. That means it has begun the wilting process. Yet it's a rare occasion when I can find lettuce in the grocery store that isn't floppy and moist. Conclusion: this stuff is OLD. Beware.
posted by gjc at 4:15 AM on September 21, 2013


So what would actually change if food waste is reduced to zero?

I think also of the environmental benefits. 20-30% less wilderness reduced to agricultural production globally would be really helpful with our current biodiversity crisis.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:02 AM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


To tell if eggs are still good, put them in a glass of water. If they float, they are bad - don't eat them.

Yeah, no. All the float test will tell you is whether an egg is on its way to stinking up your kitchen when you crack it. To tell if eggs are still good, check the dates you pencilled on them when you collected them from the nesting box.

Store eggs are regularly weeks old when you get them in the US.

The difference between an egg laid yesterday in your own back yard by your own chook and the egg you paid twice as much for so that a grocery supply chain could take a month to get it to you has to be tasted to be believed.
posted by flabdablet at 6:12 AM on September 21, 2013


It may come as a shock to you, but some people find it impractical, if not outright impossible, to own and care for chickens.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:22 AM on September 21, 2013 [20 favorites]


They have my deepest sympathy, and should know that the tear I shed for them into every single omelette makes them all the more delicious.
posted by flabdablet at 6:27 AM on September 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


You can get fresh eggs in Austin every Wednesday and Saturday morning at Boggy Creek Farms. I went kinda late one Saturday, and they appeared to be out of eggs, but the proprietor said "wait, let me check," grabbed an empty and headed for the coop. She returned with it full, and said "you're in luck--they laid another dozen since I last checked."

Thems was some good eggs.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:57 AM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mayonnaise does not need to be refrigerated. It is the potatoes that breed bacteria when the salad is in the warm back of your station wagon that will kill you.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:11 AM on September 21, 2013


The existential panic over mayonnaise-based salads comes from before the mass-production of shelf stable mayo, though, no? With the raw eggs and whatnot?
posted by elizardbits at 8:49 AM on September 21, 2013


It's not the mayo or the potatoes, it's the eggs. North American potato salad is basically egg salad + potatoes.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:00 AM on September 21, 2013


... has to be tasted to be believed.

Also true of milk at the farm, after it's chilled, before it gets pasteurized.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:03 AM on September 21, 2013


I will never trust my senses in these matters. It's not that they're not delicate enough. It's the memory of the lovely leftover tomato-basil linguine -- all fresh ingredients, no meat or dairy products -- that I ate a week after I made it. Isn't this nice, I said to myself, it's still keeping just fine!

TWO HOURS LATER

Phenergan was given as an antiemetic. It was not administered orally.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:45 AM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Mayonnaise does not need to be refrigerated.

Once it has been opened, it sure as heck does. It might not grow mold, but it definitely goes bad.
posted by gjc at 5:35 PM on September 21, 2013


But the government can't regulate a term like "healthy" or "fresh", and compared to a greasy Big Mac, an Italian BMT (with lettuce!) probably feels pretty crisp.

Maybe not in the US, but in the UK 'healthy' can only be used in specific contexts in advertising. 'Natural' is even more heavily regulated - white rice, for example, cannot be described as 'natural' in advertising (maybe on packaging/POS, but that's not my area) because processing is involved to get it from brown to white.

There's pretty stringent regulations about when food high in fat, salt or sugar can be advertised, and the majority of food is HFSS, including breakfast cereals and orange juice. However, your regular McDonald's hamburger is not. I don't know what makes the hamburger non-HFSS and the Big Mac HFSS - I'm guessing it's to do with the sauce and the cheese slice.
posted by mippy at 7:45 AM on September 23, 2013


> >>I'm pretty sure that most people understand that a "sell by" date or a "use by" date is more of a risk-assessment gauge than a magic litmus test for whether the milk is sour or not.

While that probably holds true on Metafilter, I would honestly dispute that claim for the public at large. My argument is not that people are stupid, but that people lack the information or haven't been trained to think critically about what information we have.


Um, Turkey Glue, yeah. I qualified why I was referring to the public at large, not just Metafilterland.
Right before I referenced the confounding factors of marketing, limited information/context, and appeal to authority for peace of mind against tainted food.
posted by desuetude at 5:28 PM on September 23, 2013


The perception of 'gone off' to make Anti-Theft Lunch Bags.
posted by unliteral at 11:11 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


filthy light thief: "I was going to comment on the suggested week beyond sell-by date for milk, but I kept on reading ... And it makes sense. Damn those handy milk-sized spaces on the fridge door!"

Now that we have a small child who apparently breathes milk, a gallon of milk no longer lasts long enough that it matters where we store it.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:16 AM on September 25, 2013


I mean, just the gallon of milk right there says something. A couple of years ago we'd be lucky to get through a quart of milk before it spoiled.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:17 AM on September 25, 2013


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