Senior Scene February 12, 2018

The end of January I wrote a column about “best before” dates on various food products and how they should affect our consumption and storage of various products. Today I am going to continue with that topic as this is often a real issue with seniors and other folks that live on their own and cook for one.

Even though you can safely consume some processed foods past their expiry date, it does not mean you should take the same liberties with raw meats and fresh fruits and vegetables, many of which are prone to bacteria and food poisoning soon after their “best before” package dates. Here are some of the riskiest foods to consume past their expiration dates:

Eggs pack more nutrients per calorie than the vast majority of other foods, and they are an inexpensive and delicious source of protein, but if you are thinking about cracking open an egg that is past its expiry date, think again. Expired eggs are one of the most common causes of foodborne illness.

We hear so many news stories about E. coli and Listeria bacteria in processed deli meats. These bacteria are prevalent in both prepackaged deli meats, and in the sliced variety you select at your grocery store’s deli counter. As a general rule of thumb, deli meats are best consumed within three days of the date of purchase.

Mixed greens including baby spinach, arugula, spring mix, packaged salad lettuce and other leafy veggies, do not keep very well after their due date. So if their wilted appearance and slimy coating and does not turn you off, think about the bacteria and pathogens lurking beneath your salad dressing.

Oysters, shrimp and other shellfish are very prone to bacterial contamination. The bacteria buildup begins the minute the shrimp is removed from the ocean, and it can affect frozen products just as much as fresh ones. Be very cautious if you are eating shrimp that has been unrefrigerated for an extended period of time.

With hard cheeses, like cheddar, it is often safe to cut off the outer edges if they are showing signs of mold growth and eat the fresh cheese underneath. However, this practice does not extend to soft cheeses, like brie. If you are finding mold on the edges of your soft cheese, do not eat it. You may end up with a case of listeria food poisoning.

Dairy products in general pose a heightened risk of food poisoning, since practically all dairy products contain significant amounts of bacteria. Some, like yogurt, are even the product of controlled spoilage, in which bacteria are encouraged to grow. Be mindful that the “best before” date no longer applies after a dairy product is opened.

Poultry products, pose one of the highest risks of causing food poisoning if they are not handled and cooked properly. We know undercooked chicken is dangerous to eat, but it’s also important to be extra careful about how you handle fresh or frozen chicken. Cross-contamination can be a problem with meat, so never store raw chicken and beef side by side in your refrigerator.

To prevent getting sick from eating ground beef, always make sure to cook it thoroughly before consuming it. And, of course, you should never eat it past its expiration date. Now everyone run and clean out your refrigerator!