Some things last longer than others, but eventually everything comes to an end. If you are one of the people concerned about the future, you probably have a well-equipped pantry waiting for you at home. Unfortunately, some of us take for granted our supplies. Even more, there are those who have no idea how to tell if their food is still safe to eat.
The problem with organizing a survival pantry is that sometimes, out of sight can also mean out of mind. We have a passive nature and somehow, once we complete a task we tend to forget about it. We move forward to other more important projects. That feeling of accomplishment you get after setting up your pantry can do more harm than good if you don’t keep an eye on your supplies and do regular checkups.
Here are some good methods to establish if you food is still safe to eat:
Start by looking at the writings on the package
This may sound simple enough, but food manufacturers don’t follow the same rules. You can find labels such as use by, sell by, best before and what not on various products. Here are some clarifications regarding these terms:
This description has nothing to do with the spoilage of an item. It mainly states for how long the seller wants the product to stay on the shelf of the store. It is not a mandatory label for foods and it helps you get the best of what’s on the shelf. If you want something that is fresh and tastes better, reach to the back of the shelf when you find products labeled like this.
Guaranteed fresh date
This is the label that you can find in the bakery department and many people will often misinterpret this one. The items labeled with these words will still be safe to eat long after the date stamped on the package. If you have doubts about products labeled with guaranteed fresh date, you can do the smell test. Also check the product for mold or any other signs that would indicate spoilage.
This is another term that can be confusing for some. Once again, it has nothing to do with the shelf life or safety of an item. This is like a safety net for companies, telling you how long they feel the quality of their product can last. I can tell you from experience that certain items like cheese and sour cream can be eaten, long after the best by date has passed if stored in proper conditions.
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Just like the one above, this date has little to do with the lifespan of the product. It’s just another way of suggesting till when the product will taste better. Some people believe that the food industry is using this marketing scam to help you replace more often, good foods you forget to use.
This is one of the most common labels. It is required to be used for all sorts of products and especially on pharmaceuticals. This is a mandatory label and since the 1979, the U.S government required drug companies to add an expiration date on their products. Although this is a safety net for both manufactures and consumers, the truth is that many products will be safe to eat long after the stamped date. For example, in the case of drugs, various studies conducted by the FDA showed that there are prescription and OTC drugs that maintain effectiveness for years after the expiration date. With the exception of insulin, liquid antibiotics and nitroglycerin, most drugs you can find on the market will still maintain their properties long after you forgot to use them.
Checking the label of the products you wish to consume is one way of establishing if the food is still safe to eat, but that’s not the only method.
Check the package
The package of your food items can provide clues about the integrity of the packed items. It will help you determine if the food has gone bad. Since most of us rely on various canned goods to build a long-term food supply, it is important to keep an eye on the following signs.
The lid of the can bulges moving up and down
When storing canned foods in a place where temperatures vary, anaerobic bacteria can develop inside the can. When this occurs, the food can go bad in a couple of months. If the lid is bulging up, it’s a clear sign that the food is no longer safe to eat.
The can is rusted or corroded
When exposed to moisture, the metal cans will start to rust. Eventually, small holes can develop that will allow air and bacteria to enter the can. Check the cans and if you notice any rust spots, remove the cans from your pantry. Check the temperature inside your pantry as well. The food in these cans can still be safe to eat if you spot the problems on time, but just to be sure do a visual check-up and smell the food before ingesting it.
The can has leaking spots
There can be various reasons why your cans will leak out its content and even poor management of the cans and cause small perforations. If you notice and leak spots on your cans remove them from your pantry and check if the food has gone bad. If you press on the can and liquid starts gushing out, you should probably toss it in the trash.
The can is dented
Although not every dented can should be thrown away, there is a chance that some of the cans have been compromised, especially if they have an air tight seal. Some people will just throw the cans away without having a second thought. However, you can do an extensive test to establish if the food is safe to eat.
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The can doesn’t make a liquid sound when shaken
If you shake the can close to your ear and you don’t hear it making a liquid sound, you should get rid of that can. The liquid may have leaked out or it evaporated due to high temperatures. Either way, the food inside the can got compromised since the liquid has the role of preserving the food.
Make sure you inspect every other type of food stored in the pantry, regardless of the packaging material, may it be plastic, cardboard or Mylar. If the integrity of the package is compromised and if it has dents or perforation signs, chances are the food may not be safe to eat.
Look at your food and smell it
Once you opened your packed food you can do a visual check-up and establish if you take the risk. If it looks slimy, spotty or chunky, make sure you throw it away as these are all signs that your food has gone bad. If it stinks or has a different smell than the one you’re used to, it’s time to eat something else.
The food package releases pressure when opened.
When you break the seal of a can of food or even when you open the jar of pickles you carefully canned there is always going to be a little sound of depressurizing. However if there is more than a quite sound, you may have a problem. It is a clear sign of gas buildup inside the can or jar. This usually happens when anaerobic bacteria is present in the food. It is no longer safe to eat and you need to discard it.
There is mold on the lid or the surface of the food
If you notice blue, gray, white, black or green mold or the surface of the food when you open a jar or can this means that the fungus or bacteria is present in the food. Even if the mold is present only on the lid, you will still put yourself at risk if you decide to eat that food.
Food is exploding or ejecting out of the package when opened
This usually occurs when the food isn’t properly processed and bacteria is present. Most people do not realize that canning can actually seal bacteria in with food. This happen mostly if a good hygiene is not kept in the working area. If you open a package of food and the food spills out, don’t eat it!
Foam and bubbles form on top of the food
When foam or bubbles form when you open a can, this is another sign that anaerobic bacteria is present in the food. This type of bacteria can cause botulism and it can get you killed. The food is no longer safe to eat and you need to discard of it properly. This expiration sign happens usually in meats and low-acid foods such as beans and corn.
The expiration signs listed in this article should be common knowledge. It should be known not only by those who want to build a survival pantry, but for anyone that plans on eating preserved foods. Some may argue that when SHTF, the taste test will be the only thing they will rely on to establish if the food is still safe to eat, but that depends on the circumstances. While it may be true that food may still be safe to eat long after its expiration date, in a crisis situation eating “spoiled” food is a gamble.
Stay safe and God Bless!
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