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A recent study has shown that more than 200 pounds of food per American is wasted every year in the U.S.  Stocking up on good buys at the supermarket and whole sale clubs can save you money, but not if the food goes bad before you use it and it is thrown away.   Whether it’s from the dairy, deli, bakery or meat and seafood departments, keeping food fresh not only saves you money, but it may also help prevent foodborne illness.

To help keep your food tasting  fresh and last longer, follow these tips:

Produce: 

  • Berries are often piled up in containers on top of each other causing some of the bottom containers to get crushed.  To check for condition of the berries, turn the container to see if the berries move freely.  If they don’t, they could be crushed together.  Also check berries for mold.  Store in refrigerator and wash only before using them.  Water can cause spoilage.
  • Melons including honeydew or cantaloupe should not have a stem; otherwise it will be underripe.  Ripe melons pull easily from the vine.  Sweet melons will smell fragrant and feel heavy for their size.   Ripe melons should be stored in the refrigerator and used within two weeks.  Cut melons should be stored in an airtight container and eaten within three to four days.
  • Onions and potatoes should not have sprouts which can cause spoilage.  They should be stored separately in a dark area away from heat and sunlight.  They should never be refrigerated.
  • Leafy greens should be purchased only when brightly colored and stored loosely in a plastic bag on a refrigerator shelf.  Avoid cramming them into produce drawers as this can cause bruising.
  • Tomatoes should be fragrant and feel heavy for their size.  Refrigeration changes the flavor; store them on the counter.

Deli Department:

  • Cheese should be cut when you’re ready to eat it.  Purchase cheese in blocks so it doesn’t dry out.  Rewrap cheese when you store it in the refrigerator to avoid picking up other flavors.
  • Deli meats are best purchased cut-to-order and should have a fresh bright color.  If purchasing packaged meat, watch for signs of spoilage such as sliminess.  Most deli meats should be eaten with three to four days.  Don’t leave any deli meat at room temperature longer than two hours; otherwise it should be thrown away.
  • Deli Salads should look fresh and not have a crust around the edge.  Ask the clerk if the salad was made fresh that day; if not, don’t purchase it.

Meat and Seafood:

  • Meat should not show signs of spoilage, such as an off odor or slimy appearance.  Always check the sell-by and use-by date, and avoid any meat with a package that leaks.  Store a cooler in your car during hot summer months to bring home perishables like meat and seafood.
  • Fish should be brightly colored and not have an off odor.  If using within a day, store in its wrapper in the refrigerator with a pan underneath to catch any drippings.

Dairy:

  • Milk or yogurt  should be checked for best-by dates; puchase those with later dates.  Never buy products with bulging packages, which may indicate signs of spoilage.  Most dairy foods will last at least a week after opening the container.  Vitamins can be destroyed by light and heat, so be sure to put the products back in the refrigerator as soon as possible. If yogurt isn’t used by the use by date, freeze it to use in smoothies or cooking.
  • Eggs should not be cracked when purchased.  USDA grades, such as AA, refer to best quality with high, round yolks.  Grade A eggs will have whites that are less firm than Grade AA eggs.  Keep eggs in their original container to avoid picking up odors on a low or middle shelf towards the back of the refrigerator.

Frozen Foods:

  • Frozen fruits or vegetables should not be in one large frozen chunk; they may not have been handled properly.  When shopping for frozen foods, store them in an insulated bag to maintin their temperature until you get them home to the freezer.
  • Ice cream should be selected from the back of the freezer.  Be sure to select a cold container!

Don’t throw out food that is past its prime, but still safe to eat.  That stale bread (without mold) will be great as french toast for tomorrow’s breakfast, and overripe bananas taste great in smoothies!  However, don’t overlook signs of spoilage including slimy meat or colorful spots on cottage cheese.  Remember nothing is worth you or your families health and well-being.  The best rule of eating well may be when in doubt, throw it out!

Submitted by:  Jennifer Even, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Hamilton County. 

Source:  ConsumerReports ShopSmart, September, 2011.

Reviewed by: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Ross & Vinton Counties.

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