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Who's turning expired food into cheap meals?

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When people donate food to various food banks and pantries that give packages away to families, especially around holiday time, what some volunteers are finding is that people are too-often donated food that's long expired. You even see situations where people who stocked up on food when the year turned from 1999 to 2000 and the rumor mill sent fear through the population that there'd be food shortages, another "millennium fever" near panic among some families who hoarded food, now, fourteen years and more later, those packaged foods such as rice and beans or canned food and cereals actually are showing up at some food banks instead of food that has a long way to go to expire. See the National Public Radio (NPR) article, "Trader Joe's Ex-President To Turn Expired Food Into Cheap Meals."

One-third of the world's food goes to waste every year. In the U.S., about 40 percent of our food gets thrown out. It's happening on the farm, at the grocery store and in our own homes. The former president of Trader Joe's, is determined to repurpose the perfectly edible produce slightly past its sell-by date that ends up in the trash, according to that NPR article. Another innovation is being tested at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee. In a back room at the food bank's warehouse in Gray, Tennessee, dented and crushed cans containing everything from green beans to beets are piled high on a counter, according to the NPR (National Public Radio) article, "Food Bank Shortages Lead to Innovation." Also you may wish to check out the site of the Natural Resources Defense Council ( NRDC).

Here's how to understand expiration dates on food items: The food is safe for what amount of time?

When your product is stamped with a "sell by" date versus a "best buy" date, it's sometimes confusing to shoppers. The sell by date usually lets you keep the item in the refrigerator a few days after you buy it, anywhere from two to five days, depending on what the item is. Green vegetables lose nutrition fast. Spinach in a plastic package loses nutrition in the dark refrigerator after a few days. Carrots dry out in the package about three to five days in the refrigerator after the "sell by" date is past. The "use by date" means you must use the item by that date of expiration. The "best buy" date refers to a food item tasting its best by the date stamped on the packaged item, such as cut up vegetables or fruit which is refrigerated.

There's also a stamp that may say "sell by" (date). The sell by date usually allows anywhere from three to five days in your refrigerator. Cans usually have a two-year shelf-life if unopened or not punctured, and the expiration date or the date of manufacture may be stamped on the top or bottom of the can or jar. It's best to check with the manufacturer as you don't want to eat food contaminated by a rusty can or eat the leached-out chemicals from the linings of the can that has been standing for a long time beyond the manufacturers date.

The USDA says that the date can be no further ahead than 30 days after the packing date. Your store can choose any day within that 30 days to date the eggs. If you don't find a date on the carton, using the eggs within three weeks of the carton date should allow them to be used within optimum quality. By "optimum quality," we refer to the fact that the yolk will be high and upstanding, and the white will be tall and firm. As the membrane releases from the shell, the whites spread out, so you want to use fresh eggs for poaching and other recipes where shape is important, and save the older eggs for scrambled eggs and recipes that includes eggs. Check out the site, "Eggs: A Consumer Guide - Illinois Department of Agriculture."

Some say "use by" with the date stamped below. Other packages are stamped with a "best by (date). Some chefs say eggs can be used even after the expiration date if they're refrigerated. See the site, "How long do eggs stay good in the refrigerator?" Also see the site, Expiration Date On Eggs - Extensive, Accurate Search Results. Can you believe the food expiration dates on packaged foods?

Nutritional supplements such as vitamins and plant extracts may have a shelf life based on two years or less. Sometimes the date of manufacture is stamped on the container. That date would be different than the date of expiration. Minerals such as calcium and magnesium may last longer than the expiration date. Don't keep yogurt in the refrigerator more than a few days. See, How Long To Wait Before Trashing Expired Yogurt, Eggs. Consult several sites before taking any chances with food safety. Your refrigerator temperature and other factors play in here, including how long the item sat in the store cooler.

Manufacturer's date or expiration date on supplements?

Is your supplement marked with the date the product had been made in the factory? Or is it an expiration date when the product no longer is safe to eat, or loses its potency and taste? Minerals may last longer than plant extracts or vitamins that have an expiration date listed on the container.

When it comes to green leafy vegetables, the question is what's on a package of salad greens when it says "best by" (date) instead of "use by" date. Nutrition goes down rapidly with spinach left in the dark refrigerator. But carrots and beets, potatoes, and various root vegetables can last longer if stored in a dry, cool area of your refrigerator. Lemons can be kept out of the refrigerator, but limes need to be in the refrigerator to keep their nutrients. Tomatoes are not to be refrigerated unless they're already cut up. Always refrigerate vegetables and fruits that you cut, slice, puree, or chop.

Also, when you order nutritional items by mail from various online sites, many of these businesses don't mark the outside of the box "fragile, liquid, glass" or "this side up." And liquid items such as olive leaf extract, apple cider vinegar, and similar items spill out in their plastic wraps, especially when the inner seal on the bottles of liquid is not pasted on tight. These items need to be mailed in a tic-tac-toe type of cardboard retainer that keeps the glass bottles from bumping into one another. With plastic bottles, the liquid easily can spill even when wrapped in plastic bags.

The liquid in a carton box mailed out sometimes seeps out from under the loose inner seal under the cap, and the staff can't tighten the caps because there's also an outer plastic seal wrap around the cap. You may get a box filled with liquid, and no markings on the outside of the box which side should stay up in handling or marked 'glass' or 'fragile.'

What information is included on the egg carton label?
All eggs sold at retail must be prepackaged in new cartons. Labels must include the grade, size, candling date, and name and address of the packer, distributor or retail store. Although not required by law, operators are encouraged to stamp cartons with a date by which eggs should be sold.

The candling, or Julian, date is a three-digit number indicating the specific day of the year on which the eggs were graded, sized and packed. For example, the number 001 would represent Jan. 1, while 365 would be Dec. 31. This number provides an indication of the eggs' freshness.

Eggs cannot be sold at retail more than 30 days after the candling date. To prevent eggs from being sold beyond this time frame, many packers mark cartons with a "sell by" date. The "sell by" date, also called the expiration date, must not exceed 30 days after the candling date. After the expiration date has passed, unsold eggs are returned to the supplier where they may be recertified by trained graders or shipped to egg breaking plants for processing into liquid, frozen or dried eggs.

Is it safe to use eggs after the "sell by" or expiration date has passed?
Yes. "Sell by" or expiration codes indicate freshness, not necessarily wholesomeness. Since egg quality deteriorates over time, "sell by" dates are used to ensure the grade specified on the label is accurate. If stored properly, eggs may be safely consumed several weeks beyond the expiration date.

Are eggs nutritious?
Yes. Eggs contain 13 vitamins and numerous minerals. One egg provides 10 to 13 percent of the daily reference value for protein--as much as one ounce of lean meat, fish or poultry. Egg protein is the highest quality food protein--second only to mother's milk for human nutrition.

Eggs are nutrient-dense; they provide many nutrients compared to the number of calories they contain. The following chart lists the calorie count for different sizes. One large egg contains about 4.5 grams of fat, but only 1.5 grams of saturated fat, the kind linked to increased blood cholesterol levels. More than half the egg's total protein content is found in the egg white, which is both fat- and cholesterol-free.

Are white eggs better than brown eggs?
No. Shell color depends on the breed of hen that produced the egg. It does not affect the egg's nutritive value, cooking properties, flavor or quality.

Why do eggs sometimes turn green when cooked?
When eggs are cooked for too long or at too high a temperature, they will sometimes turn green. Color change may also occur if the cooking water contains a high level of iron. Although the green tint does not affect flavor or wholesomeness, it may be avoided by cooking at low temperatures and using stainless steel equipment.

Is it safe to consume eggs with blood spots on the yolk?
Yes. The presence of blood spots on the yolk does not mean the egg is fertilized or unfit to eat. Blood spots occur occasionally when a blood vessel on the yolk sac surface ruptures during egg formation. Easily removed with the tip of a knife, the spots do not affect the egg's nutritive or chemical properties.

What is salmonella?
Salmonella refers to a type of bacteria that may lead to food poisoning in humans and animals. Eggs, as well as other foods, are susceptible to bacterial growth. However, eggs have several natural barriers that help prevent contamination, such as the shell, enzymes found in the egg white and membranes surrounding the shell and yolk.

Observing the following precautions will help prevent salmonella food poisoning:

  • Use only fresh, clean, unbroken, properly refrigerated eggs.
  • Avoid mixing yolks and whites with the shell.
  • Refrigerate eggs and egg dishes if you do not plan to eat them within an hour.
  • Keep cold egg dishes at temperatures below 41 degrees and hot egg dishes above 140 degrees.
  • Use homemade eggnog and ice-cream recipes based on cooked, stirred custard.
  • Keep hands and utensils clean when cooking.
  • Wash hands before and after handling raw poultry products.

Agriculture Department officials conduct annual inspections of about 10,000 businesses that sell, grade, pack or serve eggs and more than 725 facilities that traffic large quantities of eggs to wholesalers or retailers. All people who market eggs commercially must be licensed by the Agriculture Department unless they are producers who only sell eggs for personal use. Agriculture Department inspectors visit supermarkets and other retail outlets to ensure eggs are kept in a sanitary environment, are adequately refrigerated, are whole and undamaged, and meet the grade, weight and date specified on the carton.

Can you believe the expiration date, the use-by date, the best used by date, the manufacturer's date, and the sell by date?

Most people may not know how long food can be kept and safely eaten whether it's in a can, the freezer, refrigerator, package, or nutritional supplement. How long can you keep milk if you refrigerate it at or below 40 degrees F after buying it? What if you freeze it? The rule is when it doubt, throw it out.

The problem is the expiration date of any given food may be haphazard when it comes to safety. Expired foods upset stomachs or have other side effects, including toxins. Check out the article in the Boston Globe. Most people don't eat foods past their expiration date. Some uncaring souls donate expired foods to food banks, particularly canned items that usually have lost their taste, color, and may be harmful. The actual statistics given note that three fourths of Americans think expired food is not safe to eat.

Food banks are concerned why so many people get rid of expired packages of food, such as canned vegetables and fish by donating it to the poor. There's no reason to take a chance on getting someone sick because the family is in need of help with food.

Each year as food costs skyrocket and schools close for breaks, food banks are bracing for a record number of cash strapped families seeking meals as children will not be getting free meals from school during the various annual breaks.

Food banks across the U.S. are seeking increased donations as they face major shortages in food donations from manufacturers and wholesalers and a decrease in federal funding, while the demand for food handouts are increasing. But too many people decide to clean out their pantries and donate all the expired food they find to food banks. It's like putting coals in holiday stockings instead of gifts of edible foods.

Please don't donate expired food. You'd be surprised at how many pudding packages, unused packages rice and/or beans that has been standing since the 2000 doomsday prepared movement, canned food items such as years-old coconut milk, and soup cans on the shelf for years are donated to food banks. On the other hand, most people want to know how long shelf life lasts on any given food item, medicine, or nutritional supplements such as vitamins and plant extracts. For example, some minerals last longer than vitamins.

Shelf life language sometimes is vague

If you check out the WebMD, site, you can see various ways food is classified regarding sell days. With canned food, the date of manufacture or expiration usually is stamped on the bottom of the can, and you should eat it by the date you see. Whether it's safety as an issue or taste, beyond that date, the food changes. Coconut milk in cans clump together as a solid and taste like white fat, for example, especially in the winter.

Some vitamin companies even list a date the produce had been manufactured rather than an expiration date. Sites such as StillTasty.com and EatByDate.com catalog how far past their supposed "best by" dates foods are still eatable, according to a January 18, 2013 Huffington Post article, "Expiration Dates for 23 Types of food." Check out the site to get a handle on how to read expiration dates and how long food remains safe and edible.

What if you want to bake vegan--no eggs or dairy and also grain-free?

You could bake using various types of ground seeds, nuts, and coconut. One way to begin is to bake with tahini sauce. You can puree, emulsify, or grind up sesame seeds in a little water in a food processor or blender and use the paste for baking cookies or brownies. Use ground sesame seed paste (tahini) instead of fats in baking. You can check out the recipe site on baking with tahini, "Tahini Cookies Recipe - Allrecipes.com" or "25 Ways to Use Tahini | Devour The Blog: Cooking Channel." Or see, "Healthy Recipes with Tahini | Eating Well." If you're looking for a savory recipe for tahini dips, see the site, "Recipe: Baked Za'atar Eggplant Fries with Lemon Tahini Dip." You don't have to add a lot of sesame seed oil to your sesame seeds to crush it into a paste. You can crush the seeds in a blender with other liquids such as lemon juice, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, or broth.

Instead of using grain-based flours, try flours made from ground up almonds, coconuts, and legumes, such as garbanzo bean flour. Bean and legume flours or sweet potato flour and pea flour also work for savory flat breads, crackers, and wraps.

To sweeten, you add mashed bananas and dried berries. Chopped nuts also can be put on top of these desserts, such as pistachio nuts grinded in a dry grinder or coffee grinder. Another variation is sesame seed meal sprinkled into the batter or on top.

You can use tahini sauce all ready made in a jar, available from most supermarkets and health food stores. Or you can grind sesame seeds with a little water in your blender to make a paste.

All you need to do is mix 1/2 cup tahini sauce (1/2 cup ground sesame seeds and water to a paste consistency) with 1 cup of mashed or pureed bananas and a teaspoon of raisins or goji berries. A food processor can puree the sweeteners. You don't have to sweeten with sugars such as honey. And you could also use a pinch of stevia.

Fruit sweeteners are healthier than just using the empty calories of white granulated table sugar or syrups. Instead of bananas, you also could sweeten with home-made applesauce made by cutting up some organic apples, removing the toxic apple seeds, and just pureeing the apples in a blender or food processor into apple-sauce consistency.

Sweet pears can be purreed and used to sweeten cookies. Usually a few raisins will sweeten a dessert. Or you can goji berries which are more expensive than raisins. Choose raisins instead of currents. And brush your teeth after eating any dried fruit.

Then you open a package of flaked or grated coconut and add 1/2 cup of sifted coconut flour. You can buy organic coconut flour online from vitamin companies or find it in many health food stores. We buy organic coconut flour from Swanson's vitamin products. It comes in a plastic container and is organic. We only use a few tablespoons at a time when making cookies or brownies. But in this recipe, use 1/2 cup of coconut flour.

The recipe is vegan because no dairy or eggs are used in the recipe. Just mix the wet ingredients and stir in the coconut flour. The batter is sticky. So drop it by tablespoon full or small scoop onto a greased cookie sheet

You can use parchment for baking instead of greasing a cookie sheet with oil. If you do use oil, there are varieties that can take higher heat such as rice bran oil or even coconut oil. For mayonnaise, you can make your own with tofu and/or grape seed oil, or the oil of your choice that doesn't burn at 350 degrees F. But for some, you don't need to grease a cookie sheet with oil. Simply sprinkle sesame seeds on a glass cookie sheet or pumpkin seeds or even chia seeds, or ground nuts, and then put your cookie dough over the sprinkled seeds or nuts.

If you use oat bran instead of flour when making cookies and mix it with ground flax seed, you can make a cookie dough that won't stick as tight to the glass cookie sheet when baked. Another way of substituting grease for something else to prevent sticking (assuming you're not using a non-stick pan) is to sprinkle ground coconut flesh on the pan or a mixture of brown sesame seeds and ground coconut flakes.

Then put your dough on top of that and bake. The ground coconut and/or the seeds act as 'breading' on your cookie dough to help prevent sticking. And the seeds or ground coconut or even ground nuts or almond meal help prevent sticking because they're full of fats as nuts and seeds are. So they help prevent sticking and taste better than greasing your cookie sheet with other types of oils or fats.

After you put the spoon full of batter about 2 inches apart from each cookie or 'bar' on the cookie sheet, bake the dessert at 350 degrees F. for about 14 or 15 minutes or until firm, golden brown and chewy. Let the cookies or bars cool. Remember that you don't need a lot of sweeteners. Also chopped apples on top of cookies or 'bars' sweeten as do a spoon full of raisins or soaked goji berries.

To make this dessert savory instead of sweet, instead of the fruit sweeteners, just add garlic and onion powder, finely chopped onions and spinach or kale to the batter. The savory version takes more like a flat bread or wrap. Use it instead of crackers.

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