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Graduation Party Planning

April 23rd, 2015

graduation cap

 

Spring is here and with spring come graduation parties.  One of the hardest parts of planning a party is trying to decide how much food you need to have.  You will want to have enough so you don’t run out of food, but not too much, especially if it is something that doesn’t keep well (like potato salad).  A rule of thumb that I tried to follow with my three kids was to have foods that could be easily frozen if we ended up having a lot of leftovers.

Planning a party starts with picking a date that works for you and your family.  If it is a popular date then there will probably be several other parties on that date as well.  That will impact the amount of food that you will need.  If your party is late in the day and there are several earlier parties the guests may not be as hungry when they get to your house.

Here are a few examples of foods and the approximate serving amounts needed per person and per 100 guests.

  • Sloppy joes or pulled pork – 1/3 cup meat will fill a hamburger bun (16-17 pounds for 100 people)
  • Coleslaw – 1/3 cup serving per person (9 quarts for 100 people)
  • Fresh fruit – 1/3 to ½ cup per person (9 to 10 quarts for 100 people)
  • Relish tray – 3-4 pieces per person (25 pieces per head of broccoli, 32 – 4” strips of celery from a      medium bunch, 36 – 4” strips of carrots in a pound, 30 pieces in small head of cauliflower)
  • Potato salad – ½ cup per serving (14 quarts for 100 people)
  • Punch – you can get 21 6 ounce glasses from a gallon (5 gallons for 100 people)
  • Sheet cake – you can get 96-64 slices per sheet cake depending on how you cut it

If you have a food and you would like to know how much that you might need, give us a call at AnswerLine.  We would be glad to help you with your party planning.

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Food Preparation, Holiday ideas, Quantity Cooking

Rhubarb!!

April 13th, 2015

rhubarbIt is a sure sign of spring when the rhubarb patch starts to grow!  Rhubarb leaf stalks are used in everything from pies, tarts, sauces, jams, jellies, puddings and even punch.  Although it is categorized as a vegetable, most people think of it as a fruit since it is highly acidic and has a tart flavor.

According to our Iowa State University Extension Horticulturists if you are looking to start your own rhubarb patch spring is the best time to do it.  Rhubarb plants can be purchased at garden center or if you are lucky enough to know someone dividing their plant you can start your patch with that.  Each division should contain at least two to three buds and a large piece of the root system.  Replant in your own spot as soon as possible.  Select a site that will receive at least 6 hours of direct sun each day.  Plants prefer well-drained, fertile soils that are high in organic matter.

If you have just planted your rhubarb do not harvest during the first two years.  This allows food crown and root development.  During the third year, harvest for a four- week period.  In the fourth and following years, rhubarb can be harvested for eight to ten weeks, ending in mid-June.  Do not harvest after that or the rhubarb plants will be weakened and less productive the following year.  Do not remove more than one-half of the fully developed stalks from any plant at any one time.

If your plants produce flower stalks remove them as soon as they appear.  Flower and seed formation reduces the plants vigor and inhibits leaf stalk formation.  Rhubarb crowns often become overcrowded after eight to ten years.  You might notice that the stalks become smaller and there aren’t producing as much.  Dividing the plant should help with this problem.  Just remember to wait two years before harvesting again.

If your plant is producing more than you can use you might want to freeze some to enjoy later in the summer or next winter.  Here are the directions to freeze yours successfully:

Preparation – Choose firm, tender, well-colored stalks with good flavor and few fibers. Wash, trim and cut into lengths to fit the package. Heating rhubarb in boiling water for 1 minute and cooling promptly in cold water helps retain color and flavor.

Dry Pack – Pack either raw or preheated rhubarb tightly into containers without sugar. Leave headspace. Seal and freeze.

Syrup Pack – Pack either raw or preheated rhubarb tightly into containers, cover with cold 40 percent syrup. Leave headspace. Seal and freeze.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Horticulture

Natural Dyes for Easter Eggs

April 2nd, 2015

If you have small children (or grandchildren) it may be time to think about dyeing some eggs for an Easter egg hunt.  Here are some tips for preparing those eggs.

Older Eggs peel more easily: Eggs stored in the refrigerator about 10 days will peel more easily after cooking than very fresh eggs.  Sometimes eggs that have been stored for a few weeks will float.  There is no need to be concerned.  This tells us the egg is not real fresh, but there is no safety problem with it.  In fact, it should peel easily.

Hard cooking eggs: Put eggs in single layer in a saucepan; add cold water to cover with 1 inch of water.  Cover the pan. Bring just to boil and turn off heat, leave on burner, for 15-17 minutes for large eggs.  Adjust the time up or down by about 3 minutes for each size larger or smaller.  Cool in ice water or cold running water and then store in the refrigerator.

Keep those eggs safe: As with other foods, eggs should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours at any point in time.  If you will need to leave the eggs out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours for use as a centerpiece or for hiding, it would be a good idea to dye 2 batches.  Keep 1 batch in the refrigerator to be eaten and leave the other out for decoration only, to be discarded later.

Make sure the eggs you color aren’t cracked.  If any crack during dyeing or while on display, discard them along with any eggs that have been out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours.  Keep eggs in the shell for only one week in the refrigerator.

If you want to try some fun experimentation with the kids, use some natural dyes this year.  Experiment with some new colors.

Natural Dyes:

Simmer eggs in water to cover for 20 minutes with 1 tsp. of vinegar and one of the following:

Apple peels, yellow delicious apples give a green-gold colored egg

Fresh beets, cranberries, radishes give a pinkish red egg

Fresh oregano or mint leaves give a beige egg

Red cabbage leaves make a blue egg

Blueberries also make a blue egg

Strong coffee will turn eggs brown

Walnut shells make a buff colored egg

Spinach leaves will turn eggs a grayish gold/pink color

Carrot tops will turn eggs greenish yellow

Onion skins make yellow/orange eggs

Orange peels will provide a delicate yellow color to your egg

Celery seed or ground cumin will also turn eggs a delicate yellow

Turmeric, (ground) provides a stronger yellow color on eggs

Strong brewed coffee turns eggs into light beige to brown color

Dill seeds    brown-gold

Chili powder makes eggs turn brown-orange

Grape juice makes a gray colored egg

Older children might enjoy using this as a science experiment.  They can make predictions about what things affect the strength of the colors on the eggs.

Enjoy!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Are You Confused About Cooking Terms?

March 9th, 2015

Have you ever been confused about terms that are used in a recipe?  What is the difference between creaming and beating?  How can you tell when egg whites are soft peaks or when they are hard peaks?  Here are some common cooking terms and what they mean:

  • Al dente – this is a term for pasta that is cooked tender but slightly firm.
  • Beat – mixing foods thoroughly to a smooth consistency.
  • Braise – to cook gently in a small amount of liquid in a covered pan.
  • Cream – to incorporate air into the butter, margarine or vegetable shortening and sugar. When creaming have the fat at room temperature and beat at medium speed until light and airy.  The result will be a light fine grained texture.
  • Deglazing – adding a liquid (wine, broth etc.) to remove the bits of caramelized pieces left in a pan after cooking meat. This is the start of a great sauce or gravy.
  • Emulsify – this means to mix two ingredients together that don’t normally combine well like vinegar and oil. Whisk one ingredient very slowly into the other to emulsify.
  • Firm or stiff peaks – continue beating until the volume increases and becomes thick. When the beaters are raised the peaks should stay straight up even if you tilt the bowl.
  • Fold – using a rubber spatula and an over and under motion to combine ingredients without knocking out the air. Add the light ingredient like egg whites to the heavier ingredients and gently fold the mixture over top of itself to combine.  Rotating the pan as you fold helps to mix the ingredients without over mixing.
  • Julienne – to cut food into long thin strips similar to matchsticks. Carrots are quite often julienned.
  • Parboil – to cook a vegetable until it is partially cooked.
  • Pare – to remove the peeling or skin on a fruit or vegetable
  • Pulse – this means to turn a food processor on and off in very short bursts
  • Scald – this is to heat a liquid only until tiny bubbles form around the edge of the mixture. Not to boiling.
  • Sear – browning the meat in a hot pan quickly to seal in the meat juices.
  • Soft peaks – beating on medium speed until the meringue or cream peaks fold over when the beater is lifted out.

If you have a term that you are not sure what it means let us know and we will be glad to explain it to you.  We are only a phone call or email away!

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Food Preparation, Household Equipment, recipes

Ways to Add More Fiber to your Diet

February 26th, 2015

Last time we talked about what fiber is and the health benefits of boosting fiber intake.  Now let’s see how you can increase it in your daily diet.

Here are some great tips for boosting your dietary fiber intake if you aren’t getting enough:

Include more:

  • Whole grain products
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans, peas and other legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

Breakfast of champions: For breakfast choose a high-fiber breakfast cereal – 5 or more grams of fiber per serving.  Read the label or opt for cereals with “whole grain,” “bran” or “fiber” in the name.  Or add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.  Choose 100% whole grain breads for toast or bagels.

Granola as a gift resized

Switch to whole grains: Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains.  Look for breads that list whole wheat, whole wheat flour or another whole grain as the first ingredient on the label.  Look for a brand with at least 2 grams of dietary fiber per serving.  Try including brown rice, wild rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta and bulgur.

Bulk up your baked goods.  Substitute whole grain flour for half or all of the white flour when baking.  Whole-grain flour is heavier than white flour.  In yeast breads, use a bit more yeast or let the dough rise longer.  When using  When using baking powder, increase it by 1 teapoon for every 3 cups of whole-grain flour.  Try adding crushed bran cereal, unprocessed wheat bran or uncooked oatmeal to muffins, cakes and cookies.

Fiber Additions:  Add pre-cut fresh or frozen vegetables to soups and sauces.  For example, mix chopped frozen broccoli into prepared spaghetti sauce or toss fresh baby carrots into stews.

 

Raw Kidney Beans final

Include Legumes:  Beans, peas, and lentils are excellent sources of fiber.  Add black beans to canned soup or a green salad.  Or make nachos with refried beans.

Eat fruit at every meal:  Apples, berries, oranges, pears, bananas are good sources of fiber.

Make snacks count:  Fresh fruits, raw vegetables, low-fat popcorn and whole-grain crackers are all good choices.  An occasional handful of nuts or dried fruits also is a healthy, high-fiber snack.

High fiber foods are good for your health.  But adding too much fiber too quickly can promote intestinal gas, abdominal bloating and cramping. Increase fiber in your diet gradually over a period of a few weeks.  This allows the natural bacteria in your digestive system to adjust to the change.

Here are the USDA dietary guidelines on daily fiber intake for adults:

  Age 50 or younger Age 51 or older
Men 38 grams 30 grams
Women 25 grams 21 grams

Here is a list of the fiber content of specific foods from Mount Sinai Health System’s nutrition department.

Remember to drink plenty of water.  Fiber works best when it absorbs water, making your stool soft and bulky.

Low fiber foods include refined or processed foods – such as canned fruits and vegetables, pulp-free juices, white breads, pastas, and rice, and non-whole grain cereals.  The grain refining process removes the outer coat (bran) from the grain, which lowers its fiber content.  Similarly, removing the skin from fruits and vegetables decreases their fiber content.

Whole foods rather than fiber supplements are generally better.  Fiber supplements – such as Metamucil, Citrucel and FiberCon –don’t provide the variety of fibers, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients that foods do.

However, some people may still need a fiber supplement if dietary changes aren’t sufficient or if they have certain medical conditions, such as constipation, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome.  Always check with your doctor if you feel you need to take fiber supplements.

Fiber is also added to some foods.  However, it’s not yet clear if added fiber provides the same health benefits as naturally occurring sources.

It’s easy to include more fiber in your daily diet and reap the health benefits with great tasting meals and snacks.

jill sig

Food Preparation, Nutrition, Uncategorized

Fiber in the Healthy Diet

February 23rd, 2015

Fiber and Health Benefits

You may have heard that you should eat more fiber or “roughage”.  But why is fiber so good for your health?

Dietary fiber – found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes – is probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation. But foods containing fiber can provide other important health benefits as well.

Choosing tasty foods that provide fiber isn’t difficult.  Find out how much dietary fiber you need, the foods that contain it, and how to add them to meals and snacks.

imageDietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, includes all parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb.  Unlike other food components, such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates – which your body breaks down and absorbs – fiber isn’t digested by your body.  Instead, it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine, colon and out of your body.

Fiber is typically classified as soluble (it dissolves in water) or insoluble (it doesn’t dissolve):

Soluble fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material.  It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels.  Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.

Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber.

Most plant-based foods, such as oatmeal and beans, contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.  However, the amount of each type varies in different plant foods. To receive the greatest health benefit, eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods.

BENEFITS OF A HIGH-FIBER DIET:

  • Lowers cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad”, cholesterol levels. Studies also have shown that fiber may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation.
  • Helps control blood sugar levels. In people with diabetes, fiber – particularly soluble fiber- can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. A healthy diet that includes insoluble fiber may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Helps maintain bowel health. A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon (diverticular disease). Some fiber is fermented in the colon. Researchers are looking at how this may play a role in preventing diseases of the colon.
  • Normalizes bowel movements. Dietary fiber increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it. A bulky stool is easier to pass, decreasing your chance of constipation. If you have loose, watery stools, fiber may also help to solidify the stool because it absorbs water and adds bulk to stool.
  • Aids in achieving healthy weight. High-fiber foods generally require more chewing time, which gives your body time to register when you’re no longer hungry, so you’re less likely to overeat. Also, a high-fiber diet tends to make a meal feel larger and linger longer, so you stay full for a greater amount of time. And high-fiber diets also tend to be less “energy dense,” which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
  • Possible prevention of colorectal cancer. More research needs to be done on this, but preliminary results are promising.

How much fiber do you need each day?  The Institute of Medicine, which provides science-based advice on matters of medicine and health, gives the following daily recommendations for adults:

  Age 50 or younger Age 51 or older
Men 38 grams 30 grams
Women 25 grams 21 grams

Stay tuned next time we’ll discuss ways to boost your daily fiber intake!

Until then, healthy eating!

jill sig

Food Preparation, Nutrition, Uncategorized

Cutting Your Sodium Intake

February 19th, 2015

photoAccording to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 sodium is an essential nutrient and is needed by the body in relatively small quantities (provided that substantial sweating does not occur) for regulation of fluids and blood pressure.  For many people higher sodium intakes can cause high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to other health problems like cardiovascular disease, heart failure and kidney disease so watching the amount of sodium that you consume is important.

The recommendation is to reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams or about 1 teaspoon per day.  The amount is less for older people that have problems with hypertension, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.  The estimated average consumption of sodium listed in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines is approximately 3,400 milligrams per day.   Much of the sodium that we consume comes from salt (sodium chloride) that has been added during processing or food preparation.  Salting foods at the table contributes only a small part of the sodium that Americans consume.

Here are some suggestions on ways to reduce sodium consumptions:

  • Consume fresh foods rather than processed foods that are higher in sodium.
  • Prepare foods at home and control the amount of additional salt you add.
  • Cook with seasonings to flavor foods rather than adding salt.
  • Always taste the food before adding additional salt.
  • When eating out at restaurants ask for lower sodium options or ask if the salt can be left off of your food.
  • Reduce your calorie intake since the more food you consume the more sodium you consume.
  • Read the nutrition labels on food to see what their sodium content is. Purchase foods that are low in sodium.

If you are trying to reduce your salt intake spice combinations will add flavor to your foods without adding sodium.  Here are some that you might want to try:

5 SPICE SALT-FREE SEASONING BLEND

1/2 tsp. sweet leaf basil

1 Tbsp. onion powder

1 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. ground marjoram

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

In bowl, crush basil until fine.  Stir in rest of ingredients.  Spoon into shaker.  Use to season meat, chicken, fish, casseroles, vegetables and salads.

 10 SPICE SALT FREE SEASONING

2 Tablespoons leaf oregano

2 Tablespoons parley flakes

4 teaspoons sweet leaf basil

4 teaspoons leaf tarragon

1 teaspoon leaf sage

4 Tablespoons onion powder

4 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons ground marjoram

1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground thyme

In bowl, combine oregano, parsley flakes, basil, tarragon and sage. Crush with fingers until fine. Stir in onion powder, garlic powder, marjoram, pepper and thyme until blended. Spoon into shaker. Use to  season meat, chicken, fish, casseroles, vegetables and salads.

REF: Tone’s Spices 1986

SPICY BLEND     Sodium: 0.59 mg. per teaspoon

2 Tbsp. dried savory, crushed

1 Tbsp. dry mustard

2 1/2 tsp. onion powder

1 3/4 tsp. curry powder

1 1/4 tsp. fresh ground white pepper

1 1/4 tsp. ground cumin

12 tsp. garlic powder

Mix thoroughly and place in shaker.  Store in cool, dry place. Use in main dishes.

HERB ‘N’ LEMON SEASONING      Sodium: 1 mg per teaspoon

Grated peel of 1/2 lemon

2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or basil leaves, crushed

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves, crushed

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate in covered container. Sprinkles desired over meat, poultry or fish before broiling or baking.

REF: Altering Recipes Pm 1064 Jan. 1993

By eating healthy and cutting down on your sodium, it will help with many potential health problems.  Clemson University has a publication called Halt! Salt that gives additional suggestions.

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Food Preparation, Nutrition, recipes

Reducing Food Waste

February 9th, 2015

photo (2)With our last child leaving to attend college we have become empty nesters.  This has brought about a huge change in my grocery shopping and meal plans!  It has caused me to reevaluate how much I purchase and how many leftovers we are able to consume.

According to the National Resources Defense Council 40 percent of food in the US goes to waste.  A lot of the household waste is due to over purchasing, food spoilage, and plate waste.   About 2/3 of household waste is due to food spoilage from not being used in time, whereas the other 1/3 is caused by people cooking or serving too much.    With this in mind here are some suggestions to reduce your food waste and save money.

  • Be careful of buying in bulk.  Foods have limited shelf life and even thought the price may be much cheaper in a larger quantity, if you end up throwing the excess away the overall cost will be higher.
  • Plan your meals before you go to the grocery store using the grocery ad.  Then you will know what is on sale and not end up with impulse purchases and you will have the foods you need for the meals you have planned.
  • Store foods properly.  If your produce was purchased in the refrigerator section of the grocery store it should be refrigerated when you bring it home.
  • In the refrigerator store fruits that emit ethylene gas (apples, apricots, cantaloupe, figs, kiwis, melons and plums) away from other fruit and vegetables in a refrigerator drawer. Ethylene gas can contribute to overly quick ripening of other produce when stored together.
  • Remember to freeze foods that will not be consumed within a few days. Freeze leftovers in single serving sizes in freezer containers.  Then you will have small meals or lunches available to reheat when you want them and you don’t have to eat the same meal for days at a time.
  • Use fruits and vegetables in various ways. Besides eating them as side dishes or snacks put extra fruits in smoothies or mash for ice cream syrups or pancake toppings and cut fruit up to make fruit salsa. Roast extra vegetable and add them to stir fry dishes, put in a tortilla or use as pizza toppings.  Remember fruits and vegetables can also be frozen.  Be sure to blanch vegetables for best quality freezing.

Help reduce your food waste and decrease what you are spending on foods by being a smart consumer.

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Consumer Management, Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Menu ideas for the big game

January 29th, 2015

slow cooker chiliAs the “big game” approaches, it is time to start planning a party menu for game watching. It is tempting to indulge in all sorts of treats that we don’t normally eat; however you can still enjoy the game and snacks and still eat healthy. Our friends at Spend Smart. Eat Smart. have a number of delicious recipes that you can enjoy and not feel disappointed later that you overindulged. They have five different dip recipes, two different salsa recipes, cowboy caviar, sweet potato fries, and tortilla wrap ups. Enough recipes for a varied menu to last throughout the game.Combine these with their slow cooker chili and you can have a great party without much work. Adding a fruit pizza will top off the celebration. Enjoy!

If you enjoy these treats, check out the rest of the recipes they have on the website. You can improve both your budget and your health with these easy recipes.

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Food Preparation, Holiday ideas, recipes

Keep It or Toss It?

January 26th, 2015

usebydatenewHere at AnswerLine, we get a lot of calls regarding food dates on labels and how long different foods can be safely stored. This can be very confusing to most people!

There are several different kinds of dates that are used by food processing companies such as:

Use-By, Best if Used By, Best Before, Sell-By, Expires On, and more!can date

What do these all mean? Most of these are quality-based dates from the manufacturers.

  • Use-By, Best if Used By, Best By, Best Before: These “use-by” and “best” dates are generally found on shelf-stable products such as ketchup, salad dressings, and peanut butter. After the “use by” or “best” date has passed, you may start to notice changes in the unopened product’s texture, color, or flavor. But as long as you’ve stored the unopened item properly, you can generally safely consume it after the date has passed.You should always examine the product to gauge the quality after the date. Discard foods that have developed an off odor, flavor or appearance. You can also call us here at AnswerLine if you have questions on what to keep or toss. The date, which is voluntarily provided by the manufacturer, tells you how long the product is likely to remain at its absolute best quality when unopened. But according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, it is not a safety date.

 

  • Sell-By: Most sell-by dates are found on perishables like meat, seafood, poultry and milk. The date is for stores to know how long they can display a particular product. You should buy a product before the sell-by date expires.  But you can still store it at home for some time beyond that date, as long as you follow safe storage procedures.For example, milk that has been continuously refrigerated can be consumed for about a week after the “sell-by” date on the carton.  Likewise, you can store ground beef in your refrigerator for one to two days after you bring it home, even if the sell-by date expires during that time.

 

  • Expires On: The only place you’re likely to see this type of date is on baby formula and some baby foods, which are the only food products the federal government regulates with regard to dating. Always use the product before this expiration date has passed.

 

  • Packing Codes: These codes, which appear as a series of letters and/or numbers on the package, sometimes indicate the date or time of manufacture. Often though they appear as meaningless jumble. Either way, packing codes help manufacturers and grocers rotate their stock and quickly locate products in the event of a recall. But they are not meant to be interpreted as an indicator of either food quality or safety.

 

  • Open Dates: Open dating (use of a calendar date as opposed to a code) on a food product is a date stamped on a product’s package to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. It can also help the purchaser know the time limit to purchase or use the product at it’s best quality.  It is not a safety date.

To summarize, most dates on foods are a manufacturer’s estimation of peak quality and the product can be safely eaten past that date.  For more specific information about a specific food storage time or for food safety information, call us here at AnswerLine or visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service web site.

 

 

jill sig

 

 

Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition