Is it your habit to chuck food in the bin as soon as it reaches its labeled ‘use-by’ or ‘best before’ date?

At the risk of annoying those of you who are convinced that the label is a command, let me tell you that it is just not a Green thing to do to waste all that food.

For starters, the fact that you are buying food WITH labels means that the food has been handled and processed.  I know this is not totally controllable – some things have to be processed and packed and that means someone has to put a label on the goods.  It is so much better to pick a piece of fruit from one’s own tree, to collect a freshly laid egg from your own chooks – probably not so cool to slaughter them and cut them up for eating.  But it has to be done by someone.

The rules for food purchase though are to first of all check what is in your garden, then your cupboards and perhaps your neighbours’ and friends’ gardens before heading out to restock.  Then make sure that you know just what foods can stay there and not be thrown out, EVEN THOUGH the date on the label may show that they have expired.  I recently donated a heap of pasta (dried, packaged) to my neighbours’ chooks because my son wouldn’t eat it.  Admittedly, it was a few years old!  But it was actually still OK for consumption, packed with silica gel sachets.  Though, nothing that is fed to chickens is a waste!

Almost anything can be kept in the deep freeze, well wrapped and sealed.  You will get a little freezer burn after a few months but there was food found in the Antarctic after the explorers left and it was edible. Cut off the freezer burn and discard it.

Here is a list of what you can keep regardless of date.  Begin with foods that will be cooked by long and rapid boiling.

  • Rice:
    All the white rices, even wild rice with variety of grains will keep perfectly out of the fridge.  It can keep for years in an airtight situation.  Keep brown rice in the fridge to maintain its flavour or in the freezer.  I have had rice in the freezer at the holiday house for years.  It is always perfect.  Even the rice in sealed jars in the pantry seem OK.  Remember, they keep rice in barrels in China for years.  Unsealed.  They must just strain out the mice and cockroaches!!  If the rice is very perfumey, such as Jasmine, it may lose a little aroma, but it is still edible.
  • Sugar:
    This is a magic food as it doesn’t allow bacteria to grow in it unless it is wet.  Then it will ferment into alcohol. It also has the tendency to harden into lumps, but microwaving for a few seconds can make it grainy again.  The lumpy sugar you get in Asia (Palm Sugar) never gets old!).  The golden rule is to keep it air tight and those great pump action canisters (Foodsaver) that vacuum seal the goods are fantastic.
  • Essences:
    Vanilla, Lemon Essence, all those tiny bottles that cost a heap and seems to go out of date fast actually can last for decades.  They are mostly alcohol based and these are the longest to stay edible, but the others are fine as well but you may have to use a little extra as these will become weaker with the years.  Vanilla in its purest form (not essence) never goes out of date.  Keep it sealed and in a dark spot.  (Same with all other essences).  Vanilla beans need to be in the fridge and as airtight as possible.
  • Flour:
    Flour will stay viable for a year or two but not S.R. Flour.  Keep it in the fridge.  S.R. Flour has chemicals in it (Carb Soda and Cream of Tartar) and these lose their lifting and spreading ability with age.  You can still use the flour but add baking powder.
  • Cornflour:
    Keep cool and dry. Vac packs are good here again.  Keep this for years.
  • Polenta:
    Treat the same as Cornflour.  Dry and cool in a dark space.  It lasts for over a year.
  • Honey:
    We have written about the magical anti-biotic properties of honey previously.  Honey from Roman times and mead have been found in modern-day Italy and were deemed still drinkable and edible.  If it goes crystalline, put it in the microwave or stand it in a pot of warm water and give it a stir.  A glass jar is the best storage. Decant large amounts to a tiny jar for everyday use to avoid adding any pollutants.  Keep out of the fridge or in – whatever you have room for.
  • Salt:
    This will outlast the pyramids.  Put a few grains of rice in it to absorb any moisture and keep it flowing in the salt shaker.
  • Mixer Drinks (Booze):
    Keep in a cool place out of the light but it is not necessary to refrigerate it.  The pretty drinks may fade but they will taste the same.  Tequila, spirits all have very long lives and I am talking centuries.
  • Maple Syrup, Corn Syrup, Golden syrup, Treacle, Molasses and Agave Syrup:
    These syrups are indestructible.  Again, you may get a little crystallization (that is still edible so don’t even throw that away) but the syrups do not wear out!  If it is stored in a tin (some are) decant into a glass container as the tins can rust and the glass will last forever without tainting the food.  Glass is my all-time favourite for food storage.
  • Vinegar:
    Keep in the cool dark place as for most pantry items.  The cellar storage pantry is something we should all think about – hmmm, a double wall of bluestone or limestone would be nice for hanging those salamis and so on. Balsamic also lasts a long, long, time.
  • Olive Oil:
    Olive oil does go off eventually but you can count on it for at least a year after the use-by date and after that, just smell it.  You can tell if it is rancid and then you can dispose of it as with any oil or make it into a garden spray  If it is NOT rancid but way out of date and you are too scared to eat it, you can actually use it for soap-making or a pre-bath slather, or hair conditioning treatment or as a wipe for your baby’s bottom to prevent nappy rash.
  • Canned anchovies:
    These last for years, particularly the ones in jars sealed well with a vacuum lid.  They are pickled in their oil and liquid and it’s a good idea to keep them cool.  With any canned goods, if the sides, top or bottom bulge or are damaged enough to break the seal, dump them. Botulism kills.
  • Freeze it all!
    Remember that most things can be preserved in the deep freeze.  Even jams and preserves.  It is a good idea to label goods with contents and date and keep a record book of what you have in there, crossing out items as you use them.  The cost of running a freezer needs to be less than the money you save by having it.  Berries and apricots and other luxury fruits, frozen in season when they are cheapest, will save you a heap of money.  Lamb bought in Spring, again when cheap, is worth freezing and will last a year.  When you make bread, make a few loaves and economise on the heat in the oven and the cleanup time.  Again, that’s how you will justify the carbon expended by running the freezer.

P.S. Your cosmetics can also last longer when refrigerated or frozen.  Eye makeup is great to freeze.  It kills off the bacteria.  Just make sure you put it in a ziplock bag with NO AIR inside.

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