Almost all food has a food date label. The product date indicates food quality, appearance, and flavor, not food safety. Some unopened foods may be safe to eat past their product date if properly handled and stored at home. Below are some dates on a food product and what they mean.
“Best If Used By/Before” is how long the product will remain at its best quality while unopened. Foods not showing spoilage may be purchased, donated, and consumed beyond the date. (For donation information, contact your local food bank or use HS 142C Healthy Food Pantry Donation Guide, store.extension.iastate.edu/product/16109.)
“Use By” is the last date recommended for using a product at peak quality and is a required safety date for infant formula. Do not use infant formula beyond this date due to nutrient loss.
“Sell By” is the last day stores can display an item for sale while at peak quality.
Often when we cook at home or eat in a restaurant, we have leftovers. To ensure that leftovers are safe to eat, make sure the food is cooked to a safe temperature and stored correctly. Safe handling of leftovers is important to reduce foodborne illness. Use these tips to store leftovers:
Freezing. Almost any food can be frozen. Freezing leftovers is easy to do and simplifies meal planning and preparation. If you know you will be short on time next week, freezing your favorite recipe this week is a good option.
Wrap leftovers well. You can wrap food in freezer paper; place in freezer bags, making sure to let all the air out; or place in freezer-safe storage containers. This helps keep bacteria out and preserve moisture.
Label and date. Label and date all leftovers so you know what is in the package and how long you can safely store it before throwing it away.
Storage. Leftovers should be eaten, frozen, or thrown away after four days. If frozen, use leftovers within three to four months for the best quality.
Thaw. Safe ways to thaw leftovers include the refrigerator, cold water, and the microwave oven.
Reheat. Reheat leftovers in the microwave to 165°F in a microwave safe container and add liquid if needed. Stir the food halfway through the reheating process. Check the temperature of the food in several places before serving it as dense food needs more time to cook.
Storing food correctly helps prevent food waste. The refrigerator is the most important kitchen appliance for keeping food safe. Refrigerators should be kept at 40°F or below while the freezer needs to be set at 0°F or below.
Where food is stored in the refrigerator is just as important as keeping it at the correct temperature.
Door shelves are good for storing condiments and salad dressings since that is the warmest part of the refrigerator. Do not store eggs or milk here.
Sealed crisper drawers provide an optimal storage environment for fruits and vegetables. Vegetables prefer higher humidity and fruits lower humidity, so adjust drawer controls accordingly. This will help the produce last longer.
Middle shelves are good places to put ready-to-eat foods like salads, desserts, or leftovers.
Lowest shelf is where you should place raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Place them in a sealed container or wrapped securely to prevent meat juices from dripping and contaminating other foods.
A well-organized refrigerator helps reduce food waste and save money. You should aim to deep clean your refrigerator every three to four months. Follow these steps to clean and organize your refrigerator:
Remove everything. Throw out food that has spoiled or expired and leftovers more than four days old.
Put perishables, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, and eggs, in a cooler with ice or ice packs to keep cold while cleaning the refrigerator.
Wash all shelves, drawers, and walls with hot soapy water. Rinse with clean, hot water and let air dry. Replace drawers and shelves once they are dry.
Make sure the refrigerator temperature is 40ºF or below, so your food is safe to eat.
Group similar foods together as you put them back in the refrigerator. Label and date all foods.
Crisper drawers: Keep fruits and vegetables.
Deli drawers: Store deli meats and cheeses.
Lowest shelf: Place raw meats on a plate, so they do not drip onto other foods.
Back of refrigerator: Keep milk and eggs, so they stay cold.
Door: Store sauces and condiments.
Once a year, clean the back and bottom of the fridge. This helps it to operate efficiently.
We all do our best to serve our families food that’s safe and healthy. However, do you know all you should know? A few food safety practices that many people believe and follow are actually myths.
Myth: I don’t need to wash fruits or vegetables if I'm going to peel them.
Fact: Because it’s easy to transfer bacteria from the peel or rind when you’re cutting to the inside of your fruits and veggies, it’s important to wash all produce, even if you plan to peel it.
Myth: To get rid of any bacteria on my meat, poultry, or seafood, I should rinse off the juices with water first.
Fact: Rinsing meat, poultry, or seafood with water can increase your chance of foodborne illness by splashing juices and any bacteria they might contain onto your sink and counters. If you choose to rinse for cultural reasons, make sure to clean and disinfect the sink and counters immediately afterward.
Myth: It is OK to wash bagged greens if I want to. There’s no harm!
Fact: Rinsing leafy greens that are ready to eat (those labeled “washed,” “triple washed,” or “ready to eat”) will not enhance safety. In fact, it could increase the risk for cross-contamination. This means harmful bacteria from your hands or kitchen surfaces could find their way onto the greens while washing them.
Potluck meals are a fun, low-cost way to celebrate the holidays with friends and family. They are also linked with the spread of foodborne illness. Follow these tips to keep food safe:
If you or someone in your home has “stomach flu” or symptoms of a foodborne illness, don’t prepare food.
Don’t mix salads, such as potato or a tossed lettuce salad, with your bare hands. Use utensils or wear gloves instead.
To keep cold foods cold (40°F or lower), remove items from the refrigerator just before leaving home and put them in a cooler with ice or a freezer gel pack. Remove hot food items from the oven or cooktop and place in containers such as insulated bags to keep foods hot (140°F or above).
To prevent cross-contamination, cover your car seat with a clean sheet or large towel before placing the food container on it and don’t transport food with animals in your car.
Thaw your turkey safely: Plan ahead, since thawing may take days in the refrigerator. Do NOT thaw it on the counter, in a bathtub, on the porch, or in the garage.
Handle your turkey safely: Before touching the turkey, wash your hands for 20 seconds. Do not wash or rinse the turkey. This may spread poultry juice to other foods and lead to foodborne illness. Use a clean cutting board. Wash the board with warm soapy water after use and before preparing the next item.
Cook your turkey safely: Set oven temperature to at least 325°F. Cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Find cooking times at USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, bit.ly/3kZeP6D. Use a food thermometer to check in at least two of the thickest parts of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. After cooking, the turkey should rest for 20 minutes to let juices settle.
Chill your turkey safely: Divide leftovers into small portions and refrigerate or freeze within two hours after cooking. Use refrigerated leftovers within 3–4 days and frozen cooked turkey in 2–6 months for best quality. For more Thanksgiving-friendly food safety tips, visit FoodSafety. gov, bit.ly/3A55oqt.
Vegetables are part of a healthy diet. However, they can also be a source of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Use these food safety tips to protect yourself and your family.
Always wash hands with soap and water before you start to prepare vegetables.
Use clean equipment, including cutting board and knives.
Wash all produce even if the skin will be peeled. If a produce item is labeled ready to eat, washing is not recommended and could increase risk of illness.
Wash produce under running water. A scrub brush can help in cleaning produce. Soap and vegetable rinses are not necessary. If soaking is required to loosen dirt, make sure to finish by rinsing under cool or warm running water.
Using a food thermometer ensures food is cooked to a safe temperature. You can’t rely on the color or texture of a food to determine if it’s safely cooked. For example, ground beef may turn brown before it reaches a temperature that kills germs. A hamburger cooked to 160°F is safe regardless of color. Use a food thermometer to make sure cold food is at or below 40°F and hot food is at or above 140°F.