Labels and Safe Food

There has been a lot of confusion around food labels in the United States. Over the past decades many Americans have improved their understanding of nutrition labels. The date labels we find on products still seem a bit misunderstood.

This is no wonder, even while we were researching data about food labeling we even came across some seemingly conflicting advice about the “Sell-By” date. The dates are not federally mandated, they are voluntarily added by the manufacturers. The only exceptions are baby formula.

The USDA itself published information in the past warning consumers to not purchase food with a label date that is beyond the sell-by date. However, as noted in more recent years, the USDA definitions have changed and they clearly state the dates have nothing to do with safety. Below is an excerpt from the USDA.

What Date-Labeling Phrases are Used?

Based on this new information provided by the USDA, purchasing any food after a sell by date is clearly a personal choice. We cannot tell you what is best for you. However, in our home we do not purchase the item if the “Sell-By” date is in the past, especially on cold or ready to eat foods.

Your Eyes and Nose Are The Best Line of Defense

Check food for foul odors, mold, or slime prior to purchasing and before using any food product. Do not buy any foods that look or smell displeasing.

Plan Your Trip to The Store

If you are using the tools provided in the Meal Prep Made membership, you will have an organized shopping list prepared for your trip to the store based on the meals you plan to prepare.

For food safety always keep cold food below 40 degrees F. In the summer or in hot climates a good tip is to transport your food items using thermo food bags. Be sure to add ice or ice packs on those hot days. For maximum effect you can take them into the market with you. When you are grocery shopping, you likely will be in a cool environment and the bags will remain cold. If you are shopping at a farmer’s market you can bring a rolling cooler along with your ice packs.

Moving Through The Market

Whether you opt to use the thermal bags or not, move through the store or market with precision, shop in a manner that makes sense. Gather all of your shelf stable items first since they do not have to be kept cool. Select the fruits and vegetables next, then move on to select meats, seafood and frozen items last. This will ensure that you have limited the exposure of your perishable items (the amount of time that they have been out of the safety of the coolers).

Unpacking the thermo bags makes organizing the items at checkout a breeze. All your cold items stay together. Ask the clerks to utilize the thermo bags or pack your own cold items. If you forget the bags or the ice, once shopping is completed, head directly home. Always refrigerate any perishable food within 2 hours (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).

Keeping Foods Safe at Home

Perform a Temperature Check Every Now and Then

Check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer with an appliance thermometer. The refrigerator should be at 40 °F or below and the freezer at 0 °F or below

While we are on the subject of thermometers, it is a good idea to check your meat thermometers from time to time to ensure their accuracy. To do so place some ice cubes in a glass and fill it with water. place the thermometer n the glass without touching sides or bottom for two minutes. If it reads 32 degrees F then it is accurate. If not you will need to adjust either the device or or adjust for the degree it is off when checking temps.

Photo Courtesy of ThermoPro

Shelf Stable vs Refrigerated Foods

Some foods can be safely stored at room temperature; they are referred to as “shelf stable.” Jerky, country hams, some canned and bottled foods, rice, pasta, flour, sugar, spices, oils, and even some other foods that are processed specifically for shelf stability. All canned goods are not considered shelf stable. Some canned food, such as some canned hams and seafood, are not safe at room temperature. These will be labeled “Keep Refrigerated.” Always read labels since a food that is packaged shelf stable may need to be refrigerated after opening. Soy sauce is one good example of that.

Repackaging Shelf Stable Food or Bulk Food From Bins

When you purchase and store shelf stable food it is a best practice to add your own label that shows the the date so that you know how long it has been around.
We store much of our shelf stable food in glass Mason jars with covers. Not only does it keep fresher longer, but we can see the quality of the product through the glass. Storing things like sugar, and crackers discourages pests and keeps moisture out of the food.

Keep raw foods to themselves. Germs can spread from one food to another.

  • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from other foods in your refrigerator.
  • Do not store meats, and poultry on upper shelves of the fridge where they can drip on other foods.
  • Do not reuse marinades used on raw foods unless you bring them to a boil first.
  • Use a special cutting board or plate for raw foods only.
    Source: USDA