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Please don't remind me that I'm poor; I'm having too much fun pretending I'm simply "living green" like everyone else these days.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Buying discount foods

I've type-talked quite a bit about how I find lots of discount bin things.  Here is one example from the fabric store.  I bought these cabone rings months before I actually used them.  I knew I was planning to make window quilts for all my windows and would need these.

I also found these in the discount bin at Walmart.  I knew I would need these  for my window quilts.  I bought these a couple of years before I actually got around to using them. 

If I'm very patient I can find almost anything I need in a discount bin eventually.  Most people can understand and appreciate buying at least some discount stuff this way.  What really makes people squeamish about buying from a discount bin is buying food.

Most people believe that if a food has a red discount sticker on it that it's not safe to eat.   Red means danger doesn't it?  So what is the safe eating date?  Packages have several different dating systems.  There's the best by date. 

The sell by date. 

The use or freeze by date on meats.  The use by date on dairy products.  Or simply a date with no words on bakery products.

And several other terms that guide the store in rotating stock.  These dates are given to the store (and us) by food producers. 

So who determines these package dates?  The food producer of course.  What better way to get the consumer to buy more of their products than to give us a shortened date.  If people are convinced a product is not good beyond the date stamped they won't eat it.  The food is tossed out and new bought.  It's very hard for me to come up with the right words to describe this but I'm trying. 

A long time ago, I noticed a "use by" date on a bottle of honey.   The date stamped was about a year from when I purchased it.  I thought it odd, very odd, to have an expiration date on honey.   Honey has a natural preservative and it never, ever goes bad.  You ever heard of a bee hive tossing out it's oldest honey?  Honey will start to get a grainy texture that is easily fixable by warming it..... but honey does not go bad.  

 I started wondering about other dates on packages.  I noticed the wording of a date on a container of sour cream.  It was a "best by" date.  What the heck does a best by date mean anyway?  Best for the store to sell it by that date?  Best eaten by a consumer by that date?  Not as good tasting after that date?  Will I get food poisoning if I eat the sour cream after that best by date? 

I started thinking about my Grandma Mama and how she knew when foods could no longer be eaten.  For example we milked the cows every morning and every evening.  Some milk was sold to neighbors and some we kept.  Grandma Mama knew just how long the milk would last before it was no longer usable.  Even sour milk was used in recipes but at some point she knew not to use it anymore and gave it to the pigs.  Then there were the foods Grandma Mama canned herself.  She dated every jar with the date she canned it.  She did not put a "use by" date on her jars.  It was knowledge that told her how long a canned jar of green beans would last.  Knowledge taught to her by her mother.  Carefully using the oldest canned foods first meant her stock was always rotating.  Grandma Mama had knowledge and experience to know and remember how long foods were safe to eat.

We, as consumers, have lost our ability to know the safe shelf life of foods.  Well no wonder.... we are taught to listen to the producers and follow their confusing date systems.  We've been taught the date means "don't eat it, throw it away".  Knowing the true safe life of foods has not been taught by one generation to the next.  Grandma Mama's foods were preserved in ways that she could look at it and know if it was safe to eat.  Looking inside a glass jar of green beans, without opening, and she knew to either use it or toss it by the color of the food.  Can we do that with green beans bought in the store today?  Green beans are either in metal cans or frozen in plastic bags which we can't look inside to see for ourselves if they look ok or not.  Do we have a choice about the packaging?  No!

Well, what about fresh produce?  Hmm.... Grandma Mama had a garden and fruit trees.  She picked her produce and preserved it.  Food from the garden and orchard had blemishes.  Bugs ate on it or the hoe nicked it.  These days if an apple has a slight blemish people won't buy it.  If a mushroom has a single dark dot on it people won't buy it.  If green beans look slightly wilted people won't buy any.   Lucky for me people feel this way though because I can find lots of food in the discount bin and buy it.

Next time you look at the date on a package of food.... before you toss it out..... think about it first.  Next time you see a red discount sticker.... take a second look before walking right on by.  I'm not telling you to eat rotten produce or freezer burned food.  I'm just saying the date stamped on a package by a food producer may not be it's true expiration date.  Let knowledge and experience (and your nose) be your guide; not just a date stamp given to you by someone who wants to sell you more than you really need.


Gudrun said...

Please also remember, Sometimes a product is dated, because of the packaging. I am sure you don't buy bottled water, but I'll use that as an example, the plastic bottle use for water are now newer plastics that decompose rapidly, so the water is okay, but the bottle is not...making the water not too ....

Anita Estes said...


I wasn't aware of that. I had heard there was plans to change packages but I didn't know it had started already. Thank you for telling me.

Hmm... now you have me curious. I'll need to do some research on packaging because this puts a whole new slant on my food stash.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree. But if dates were not added, there would be some people who would eat, drink, etc LONG past the proper (for lack of a better word) age and get sick. Then they would want to sue the company. Some people are just not able to process which is good and all of us suffer. EXAMPLE: The person in 1980 (don't remember the name not enough time to look it up) they took the capsules of Tylenol and added poison, it created a USA panic until it was narrowed down to the orgin. Unfortunately there are people out there ......

Joan J said...

I've read your bargain bin posts before and they give me a lot to think about. Today when I did my normal grocery shopping, I kept an eye out for bargain items. I found a few shelves of bargain items in the back of the store (Kroger), but nothing I needed or ever used. However, I did find both whole wheat and flax breads, normally over $3.00 a loaf, with the red sticker price of .99, and picked up 5 loaves, which will last us 5 weeks. I also found english muffins for .49 a package, normally priced around $2.00. I have no qualms about bread products because they go straight into the freezer. Other than an occasional dark banana, I just don't see discounts in the produce aisles, unfortunately. And I admit to being gun-shy with outdated dairy products (though the sour cream philosophy makes complete sense). What do you do with out-dated milk?