Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Processed foods products in the market-To eat or to throw? Are they really safe?

The debate about when to toss out the food in your pantry is a never ending one with the consumers totally confused about the label declarations printed on each food package. In India there is no provision for printing expiry date and instead manufacturers are supposed declare a "best buy date" beyond which the quality is not guaranteed. While in theory it is an equitable proposal for both the consumer and the industry, what is happening in the ground is some what strange. First it is a common sight in the market to see house wives frantically looking at the manufacturing and best before dates to select the one which are the "freshest" leaving behind pieces that are made before. This is indeed a nightmarish situation for the industry and the retailer as far as "stocking and putting on the shelf" policy is concerned. Still this system is working more or less satisfactorily with no major complaints heard too frequently. However the larger question remains unanswered as to when the food becomes unfit for consumption or inedible after the lapse of the indicated date on the label. Many educated consumers throw the food after the best before date though the contents inside are still edible and safe.  Against such a background comes an advice from the USFDA regarding the safety of different foods beyond the expiry date printed on labels in that country, Here is a take on this important area of consumer concern

We end up throwing away $10 to $20 worth of food a week, which doesn't seem like a lot to a lot of people but you do that through the course of a year and that's more than $1,000," said Simmons. Concern over eating food that expires quickly is common, but Blue Cross, Blue Shield dietician Kristen Rowe says there's no need to panic when the expiration date passes. "This is the date that it's going to be the freshest. It's going to be the best quality. So it's not saying that it's going to make you sick or ill or it's not safe for you, it just might not be as fresh," said Rowe. "There's three different phrases that refer to expiration dates. 'Best by' and 'Use By' essentially mean the same thing. They refer to quality, not safety, which means you can eat the food after the expiration date, but after that the quality of the food starts to go down. Now the phrase that you're going to want to pay attention to is 'Expires By.' If you eat food after this date, it becomes unsafe and you're going to want to through it out," said Rowe. "If it's milk and it doesn't smell good anymore, toss it." And certain foods only partially spoil, which means some parts are still safe. "If it's a hard cheese, you can actually cut the mold off and you can still consume it." The Food and Drug Administration recommends these timelines for common foods:

-Milk should be tossed after 2 to 3 days after it's 'use by' date
-Butter – 2 to 3 weeks after purchasing
-Eggs – 3 to 5 weeks
-Raw poultry – 1 to 2 days
-Pre-cooked poultry 3 to 4 days
-Canned goods can last 1 to 2 years

But, keep in mind many of these can last longer if you put the food in a colder temperature. "If you put something at 40 degrees or below, it's not going to be able to grow bacteria like it would if it was at room temperature," said Rowe. And some foods need heat to stay safe. If a vegetable is wilting, but not molding, you can heat it up and it's still safe to eat.

How far these guidelines are really valid under different situations is a matter of further debate. Food, after all is a perishable material and there are many vectors targeting the food for their own benefits. Most importantly microbes in moisture laden foods and insects in dry foods can have a field day if the food is not properly protected. Even the best processed and protected food will have to surrender to these predators as the post process duration increases, ultimately making the food unfit for consumption. As a thumb rule it is better to throw away the food after the best before date if they are not to be reheated before consumption while in the case of dry foods, appearance of weevil or some other pests is definitely an indication that it is not suitable for consumption. 
Date expired foods are sold in some markets at half the price but buying them will require lot of thinking regarding its over all quality though avoiding them is the best policy.


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