Lisa Washburn

Throw Out Old, Expired Food

In Food & Cooking, Food Safety, Money on April 19, 2011 at 8:15 PM

In my job, I get to take calls from consumers with questions ranging from what foods are high in iron to how to remove mold and mildew from fabrics. But the questions I most commonly hear relate to food, and all have a common theme: consumers want to know if their old food is still safe to eat.

In most instances, the answer that I provide—that the food should be disposed of—is not what the consumer wants to hear. So then the caller will go into a litany of reasons why they do not want to throw the food item out.

Here’s how it usually goes:

Caller: I have this bag of fresh coconut that I’ve had in the refrigerator for about 2 years, and I was wondering if you could tell me if it’s still good.

 Me: You have had it for 2 years?  

 Caller: Yes, but it’s been in the refrigerator.

Me:If its two years old, you should probably throw it out [very few food items have a storage time of two years, even in the fridge].

 Caller: But it’s been stored in the refrigerator.

Me:  It probably won’t make you sick, but the product quality has likely diminished to the point that it would not be very good to use in a recipe [she wants validation in not throwing out a $1.87 bag of coconut].

 Caller: Oh, well, I was hoping that it was still good.

 Sorry.

In case you are wondering, the storage time for shredded coconut is one year if the package is unopened. After it’s opened, it should be refrigerated, and can be kept for six months.

The food safety motto is “When in doubt, throw it out.”

I know folks hate to be wasteful—I do too. Throwing out food is like throwing away money.  When people are reluctant to dispose of food that may make them or their families sick, or that may produce an inferior product when used in a recipe, they should realize that carries a price tag, too.

You may have to go to the doctor because you’re sick, or you’ve spent money on ingredients and have made a coconut cake you now have to throw away because it tastes bad.  You may be further embarrassed because you took it to a church social, and now everyone thinks you’re a terrible cook. All because you would not throw away your two-year old bag of coconut. In addition to wasting money, you’ve also wasted the time you spent making the cake.

I can hear the disappointment in the voices of callers when I tell them that it’s time to throw a food product away. It’s like they are grieving, as if there was some emotional attachment to the over-mature food.

And sometimes they act like they don’t believe me, like I’m in some sort of conspiracy with the grocery stores to make them spend more money on food. I promise I’m not.

Just throw it away, and plan better next time so that you do not have to dispose of food you did not use in a timely manner.  If that doesn’t work for you, there’s always store-bought cake.

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