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The USDA Wants You to Eat That Old Stuff at the Very Back of Your Pantry

If you haven’t intentionally eaten years-old pantry food by now, you’ve probably been served it by your mildly senile auntie. Age, when it comes to the canned and the dried, ain’t nothin’ but a number.
Hilary Pollack
Los Angeles, US
April 22, 2015, 11:25pm
Photo via Flickr user Robert Benner

Food waste is a big, huge, massive problem—especially in the US, where we throw out nearly half of all of the sustenance we purchase, prepare, or order. We're talking millions and millions of tons a year and more than a fifth of our total garbage. We discard more food than plastic, paper, metal, or wood.

This decadent food-wasting concerns the US Department of Agriculture, which recently decided to get with the wild 'n' crazy 21st century and release an app (it stands for "application," grandma) called Food Keeper, with the intent of telling us to stop stuffing our station wagons with potato rolls and half-and-half and then tossing them in a dumpster four days later when they reach their "SELL BY" date. But at the same time, with foodborne illness also a gigantic problem, they want to encourage the people of our great nation not to make chowder out of that salmon fillet that's been sitting in their crisper for two and a half weeks.


But one thing that has shined through in particular about the USDA's keep-it-or-toss-it classification system is that they basically want us to ignore the expiration dates on canned and dried foods.

READ: Scientists Are Finally Taking a Stand Against the Five-Second Rule

While many soups and boxes of spaghetti will be stamped with a date the following year (i.e., MARCH 2016), the USDA wants you to feel confident about cooking up that can of chunky-style beef stew in 2020. And good news: that rigatoni will be just as delicious in the spring of 2017.

I mean—it's true. If you haven't intentionally eaten years-old pantry food by now, you've probably been served it by your mildly senile auntie. Age, when it comes to the canned and the dried, ain't nothin' but a number.

But the same doesn't really apply to meat, dairy, and other things prone to quickly attracting microscopic nasties. Some people have been confused by the recommendations—and that's fair.

And while certain foods include tips about refrigerating after opening or adhering (or not) to sell-by dates, others are left in the dark. Half-and-half, for example is said to only last three to four days in the refrigerator. But if that if it's unopened? Opened? Past the stamped date? From the second you purchase it? Starting with the new moon?

Not to mention the fridge findings not listed. Ravioli: "No results for this food." Egg rolls from the crappy Chinese place down the block: "No results for this food." Half-eaten bodega sandwich with mayo that you left on the kitchen counter for 11 hours and are eyeing the morning after: "No results for this food."

Need it be said again, however, there is always the Golden Rule of Old Food: When in doubt, throw it out. Unless it's a lonely can of beans on the top shelf of your pantry.

In that case, cook it up. I mean, the app's not called "Food Waster."