BARBARA MCCLELLAN

Barbara McClellan

Now is as good a time as ever to talk about food storage and preservation.

Of course, we are all anxious about the COVID-19 situation, because we are facing something unknown and foreign to us. Those of us who were touched in any form by WWII — the rationing, the shortages, the “make-do” with what we have — are slightly familiar with this situation. Also, we who had parents who were reared during the Depression era know how our families wanted to be prepared for “anything that might happen.”

I can remember my family growing a garden and keeping a few extra cans of foods and supplies “in case anything happened.” For a few generations now we have been able to buy any and everything with lots of choices, if we had the money.

There is another thing happening that I remember from the war days. I have already seen and felt a greater sense of caring and community than in many years. Several friends younger than us (it seems like the whole world is), call or text us frequently just to check to see if we are OK and if we need anything. We have friends and neighbors who are willing to share if they have extras of the essentials.

Once again, we are at a time when we need to avoid waste of food and other products. I recently read that Americans throw away almost 100 pounds of food per person each year. Much of our discarded food is wasted because we are confused by what the labeling dates on food mean. I have written about this before.

The categories of labeling:

Best by: Guarantees the quality (crackers and chips are still crisp)

Best if sold by: This date is set by manufacturers, again for quality of the flavor

Use by: Not a safety date except in baby formulas, but probably the category that is most accurate.

As you see, there is confusion, and the FDA is supposedly trying to make a uniform labeling system for all products.

I personally think that a good sense of smell and common sense are the best guides to use in whether to save, eat or toss. The next statements are simply from personal experience that I have acquired in over 50 years of cooking (and writing).

Milk and dairy products are usually good 1-2 weeks past the date, depending on the temperature of your refrigerator and if the milk is kept under refrigeration consistently. Try to keep the dairy product in the back of the fridge (not in the door)

Eggs, if refrigerated, are good 3-4 weeks past date on carton. Leave the eggs in the carton, rather than putting them in the door storage. Some countries leave eggs out, unrefrigerated, and according to authorities, eggs that we buy in grocery stores have been washed, which removes some of the natural protective coating.

Cereals, grains, chips and crackers are good, if kept tightly closed (buy some clothespins!) for months after the expiration date.

Greens probably need to be eaten within the week of purchase, but I never hesitate to buy the greens that are marked down. Each store has individual rules about how many dates before the” end date” the produce items are marked down.

Meat, poultry and seafood are the items that we need to pay closest attention to in keeping them safe to eat. Meat changes in color, feel and smell when it begins to deteriorate, just as poultry and seafood do. Remember,your nose is the best guide. Freeze these items, tightly wrapped, before they start to go bad.

— Barbara Richardson McClellan is a longtime food columnist and has written three self-published cookbooks. Her column appears in the News-Journal’s Taste section each Wednesday. Write her at bayrm12@gmail.com or in care of the Longview News-Journal, P.O. Box 1792, Longview, TX 75606.