Monday, 7 October 2013

The 'Old School' way of checking if food is still fresh

A huge part of being frugal for us is aiming to reduce food waste wherever possible. This means developing a good understanding of how long food is edible for and how to tell if it has perished. For the most part I don't use the dates on the packs for this as I prefer a common sense approach.

Firstly, I always keep in mind the difference between:

Best Before (the product is safe to eat but its flavour or appearance may be past its best) 
Sell By/Display Until (this is just the date the shop needs to sell the product by and has no relevance for the customer- it will be accompanied by a Best Before or Use By usually) 
Use By (a product may be unsuitable for consumption after this date and it is recommended for food safety reasons that you do not eat it)

This helps me make educated choices about whether the food is safe to eat. Although, and I am not saying this is the right choice for everyone, I do not always adhere to the Use By date. I know, I am a rebel. I know, we may all get poisoned. But I am a great believer in common sense. It helped my Granny and her Granny before her and it will help me. The most reliable way to tell if your food is safe for consumption is to smell it. Most foods will smell 'funky' or different to their usual smell when they are 'on the turn'. To make this work I always smell my freshly prepared and cooled food before storage- therefore I know how a dish should smell. The second best way is having a good old look at it. There are often physical signs that food is past its best, whether it be developing a 'film', separating, growing mould etc. Again, common sense. And thirdly I have a probe in my kitchen (cost approx £5 on Amazon a few years ago) and I use this to ensure that any meat dishes or dishes I am unsure of are probed to reach 85 degrees within 15 seconds after they have been reheated. To my mind, storing and cooking food properly massively reduces any risk of poisoning far more than obsessing over Best Before dates.


Keep a box of baking soda in the fridge to absorb odours, remove the top layer occasionally.

Put leafy green salad and veg in plastic bags (they often come in these) as they provide enough moisture to keep them fresh and healthy longer

Mushrooms hate plastic! Always buy them in a paper bag if you can but remove all plastic packaging as soon as you can. Store them in an open (ideally cardboard) container in the crisper compartment.

Keep tomatoes in a cool to room temperature place but not in direct sunlight. They don't need to be in the fridge. Store them upside down.

Always wrap cut onions in cling film as they absorb odours and bacteria otherwise. On the other hand, half a cut onion (unwrapped) in the fridge is excellent to get rid of any fridge whiffs- just don't eat it afterwards!

Never store onions and potatoes together as they reduce each others shelf life. Both should be stored in a cool, dry place ideally.

Apples, bananas and tomatoes should be stored separately from other fruit and veggies as they produce a lot of ethylene which is harmless and odourless but will reduce lifespan of veg it is stored with.

You can store cheese in the freezer for approx six months. I find this handy at Christmas time when all the Christmas cheeses are reduced a few days later. I usually cut down into smaller portions of approx 28g as I find this is easier than trying to cut the cheese when frozen. I must admit I have only done this with cheddar and parmesan though and wouldn't think it would work for softer cheese.

Milk is fine frozen and I usually have a bottle in the freezer. I will sometimes freeze it near its 'Use By' date if I don't think we are going to use it.

It is perfectly possible to freeze meat. However I think 'freezer burn' tends to be a problem and the meat loses its colour and taste. If I am freezing leftovers from Sunday Dinner I always put them in a plastic tub, portioned into individuals, and pour gravy over to fill the tub. This means I can defrost the whole box and have real home made gravy and meat for mid week dinners. And, it doesn't taste like frozen meat! If I am short on home made gravy I will water it down slightly as I feel it always thickens on freezing anyways.

How I check my food for freshness:

Eggs: Drop the egg in a bowl of cool water. If it tilts or floats it is not safe to eat. If it sinks and stays still it is still fresh. Also, to check for freshness hold the egg to a strong light and look for an airbubble at the rounded end. The smaller the bubble the fresher the egg.
Store: A chef friend of mine recommends keeping your eggs in the fridge but removing half an hour before using. I personally store mine of the kitchen counter in all but the hottest weather. We use a lot of eggs so they don't stick around long usually.

Butter: The butter will smell rancid if it is. It will have a cheesy or fishy and downright unappealing smell to it. Also, the outer layer will turn a darker yellow. It is very easy to tell when butter has turned.
Store: I struggle with this one as I like the butter soft enough to spread so the fridge is out. Then if it is kept in the cupboard it becomes mushy very quickly. I still go with the cupboard as, again, we use a lot of butter but I know I shouldn't. That said, all of us eat it and none of us have ever been ill from it!

Lettuce: This will turn brown and take on a 'slushy' and slimy finish when it is past its best. To prevent this look for lettuce stalks that are white/light green with no signs of brown as these are fresher. Always cut the lettuce with a plastic knife as stainless steel causes the lettuce to turn brown.
Store: I always prepare (wash and thoroughly dry) the lettuce as soon as I buy it. Drying it thoroughly is crucial. I then wrap it in large white cotton tea towel, store in an old ice cream tub and keep in the salad crisper. This keeps it fresh for 5 days.

Do you have any tips you can add?


  1. Some good advice, we live by similar principles! We buy reduced veg (peppers, mushroom, tomatoes) and make dishes like bolognaise or chilli and freeze into portions. I like your idea for freezing meat with gravy, ive considered freezing gravy before but never tried! And the reduced cheese at xmas to freeze sounds fab!

  2. Hi Hannah, Thanks for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment. As my blog is still in the early stages I get excited to know I have had a visitor! I totally agree re using reduced veg to make freezable meals. I also find that it saves money on buying a take away on those days where we don't have time/inclination to cook. Win win! Now to experiment with freezing wine....

  3. Hi Kate, I know that feeling, my blog is still very new too, its nice to know that someones read your posts, especially the posts that have taken time to write! I was surprised to find your new to this, your blog looks good! Looking forward to following your blog and will retweet for you where i can :)