Friday, August 9, 2013

Tips for Quicker Refrigerator Clean out

Do you know what the oldest food item is in your refrigerator?  I was surprised to find that ours was French's Sweet & and Tangy Honey Mustard, though it should have come as no surprise since I ignored the code on the bottom of the container and kept returning it to the refrigerator after clean out...for years...until writing this post.

I found that food companies:
          1.  Use different food dating terms or codes depending on whether the food is perishable or non-perishable. 
          2.  Place their expiration dates or codes in a different spot on their food containers...requiring us to search for it.
          3.  Place dates/codes on glass or plastic containers that rub off with handling or come off when the safety seal is removed.

Research led me to resources that explain food product dating and other references to help us keep our food safe:

1.  Check out  The United States Department of Agriculture website, and read the article on Food Product Dating as both go into far greater depth than I do here about how perishable and non-perishable items get dated (or not) and how mishandling or improper storage affects food safety.  Some common dates found on our refrigerator items:   
  • "A 'Sell-By' date tells the store how long to display the product for sale.  You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A 'Best if Used By (or Before)' date is recommended for best flavor or quality.  It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A 'Use-By' date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality.  The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
  • 'Closed or coded dates' are packing numbers for the use by the manufacturer."
2.  Food provides information about recalls and alerts, food poisoning, and how to report food poisoning, and much more.

3.  University of Nebraska-Lincoln Food Storage Chart lists safe storage times for perishable and non-perishable items.

4.  Julian Calendar - needed for deciphering the day and month part of the  manufacturer's code.

5.  Manufacturers list contact information on their products:  phone numbers, email addresses, and websites; they like to hear from you!

I first checked out French's website for an explanation of the code (M03307) on the mustard container  and read that:
      M - represents the manufacturing location
      03 - year product manufactured
      307 - Julian date (30 - day; 7 - month).

Then, I sent an email to French's Customer Service Department; they answered within 24 hours and confirmed that the product was manufactured in 2003, and while it was not harmful to consume this particular product, it may exhibit a loss of change of overall flavor quality.  They suggested discarding it.  I did.

5 Tips to shorten your refrigerator cleaning project:

1.  Print referenced lists above, place them in a folder, and keep it near your refrigerator for clean out day. 
2. Take all food containers out of your refrigerator and sort them by category on your counter top or table.  You may discover you have triplicates of soy sauce like I did. Clean the inside of the refrigerator.
3. Discard items with expired 'Use-by' dates.  Discard leftovers according to Food Storage Chart above.
4. Make your grocery list.
5.  Once you've purchased needed food items, and before you put the item in the refrigerator, write the 'Use-By' date on a  label with a Sharpie and place it on the container while it's dry.  Label leftovers the same way. 

I don't know of anyone who likes to clean out their refrigerator--me included; however, frequent refrigerator clean-outs reduce the chance of getting ill from eating spoiled food and spending money on duplicate items.  Clean out your refrigerator more often and the task takes less time.