Attention warehouse shoppers: Don’t grab that gallon of olives quite so fast.
After answering numerous calls on whether bulk items are still good, food specialists say people should be more careful about buying in quantity.
“It’s no bargain just because it costs less per ounce if you don’t use whole box,” said Val Hillers, extension food specialist at Washington State University’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.
From food forgotten and spoiled in the refrigerator to uneaten vegetables tossed in the garbage, consumers and restaurants are the largest source of food loss in the marketing chain, according to federal studies.
At home, people prepare too much food, waste it on the plate, let leftovers rot or store food improperly.
Studies show that people tend to waste infrequently used foods such as sour cream and hot dog buns more than staples like bread, milk and cereal.
But the leading cause of waste is taking sell-by dates as edible dates. Most of those dates are quality indicators and do not designate whether food is safe, Hillers said.
Mayonnaise is a perfect example. The fat will begin to taste rancid, but it is too acidic to grow something harmful, Hillers said.
The rule of thumb that Spokane Food Bank director Al Brislain follows at home is if it takes about a week for the average family to consume a product, that’s how long it tastes fine after its sell-by date. With yogurt, it might be about a week, with ice cream, a month.
Generally, most foods will taste bad long before they ever become harmful, Hillers said.
There are exceptions: smoked salmon and fresh pasta.
Smoked salmon in a vacuum pack should be discarded at the sell-by date because a bacteria that causes botulism can grow very slowly even when refrigerated, Hillers said.
Fresh pasta should also be used by the sell-by date because of the slight risk of listeria, a common bacteria that years go sickened thousands in California.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Who to contact If you have questions about food safety, call the Spokane County Cooperative extension office at 533-2048. Or, write for “Storing Foods at Home,” ($1.50 plus $1 for mailing) from the Bulletins’ Office, Washington State University, P.O. Box 645912, Pullman, WA 99164-5912.