SAVING | APR 30, 2022

Wisdom-Filled Ways to Maximize Your Grocery Budget

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Rob West & Jim Henry

What if there was a way to save up to a third of your grocery budget without really doing anything?

Americans are pretty picky when it comes to food freshness. If something even looks a little old, it goes right in the trash or garbage disposal. But is it really bad?

A study a couple of years ago revealed that Americans waste almost nearly a third of the groceries they buy. As believers, we never want to waste food and Jesus himself set the example. John 6:12 reads, “And whenthey had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”

Certainly, food sometimes goes bad, but how much of what we purchase could be used just by rethinking what “out of date” really means?

According to the U.S.D.A., the average family of four spends about $900 a month in groceries. That doesn’t include eating out. If you could save just 10% of that by wasting less food, you’d be more than a thousand dollars ahead at the end of the year.

Achieving this starts with a better understanding of expiration dates. What do “Sell by” and “best by” dates actually mean? The following definitions exclude infant formula and baby foods.

When you see “best if used by or before,” it means the date when the product has the best quality or flavor. It does not refer to safety. Foods can be consumed after those dates.

A “use by” date means the last day the item is at its best. In most cases, you still have time to use it.

You might also see a “sell by” date on a package. In most states, that is a manufacturer’s suggestion and the item can still be sold after that date, often at a reduced price.

A “freeze by” date is another recommendation from the U.S.D.A., not a hard and fast rule, and it simply means the date by which the item should be frozen to maintain optimum quality.

What this means, again with the exception of baby products, is that none of these labels is an indication of the safety of food items. Then how do you know when an item is safe?

U.S.D.A’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says that foods that are past their “best if used by” date (but not showing signs of spoilage) should still be safe to use. Of course, that depends on the individual item and the temperature where it’s stored.

Another possible exception to this “rethinking process” is eggs. Some states prohibit “sell by” dates on eggs and some require more restrictive “expiration dates.” In any case, it’s probably best not to use eggs after any type of end date.

How long should items last once you get them home? The U.S.D.A. offers these suggestions:

  • Fresh eggs in the shell should last 3 to 5 weeks in the fridge. Figure 7 days for bacon, or a month in the freezer. Raw hamburger, 1 to 2 days refrigerated, or 3 to 4 months in the freezer.
  • Steaks are at their peak for 3 to 5 days refrigerated, and 6 to 12 months if frozen. Figure 3 to 4 days for cooked fish in the fridge or 4 to 6 months in the freezer.
  • Raw chicken and turkey are safe for 1 to 2 days in the fridge, but 9 to 12 months in the freezer. And finally, fresh shrimp, scallops or squid, 1 to 2 days refrigerated or 3 to 6 months frozen.
  • Some foods never go bad, or at least take a very long time to spoil. Honey, for example, has antimicrobial properties that keep it preserved for a long period of time if it’s sealed and stored in a cool place out of sunlight.
  • Canned goods also last indefinitely, as long as the can doesn’t have “rust, dents or swelling,” says the U.S.D.A. Packaged foods such as cereals are also good well past their “best by” dates, although they can develop an “off” flavor.
  • Factory-sealed maple syrup will also last indefinitely, but once it’s opened you should keep it in the fridge. Salt is itself a preservative but usually comes with a “use by” date of 5 years. After that, it may pick up a bad taste.
  • Dried Beans are good for 10 years if stored in a cool place, again out of sunlight, but they should be in factory packaging or sealed buckets with reduced oxygen levels.
  • And finally, whole grains have a one-year shelf life if frozen, or 6 months in a cool, dry location, but they should be in airtight containers.

We hope this information helps you trim grocery waste and stretch your food budget!

You can also listen to the related podcast on this topic.

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