Christine Bruhn, PhD is the Director of the Center for Consumer Research at the University of California, Davis where she earned her doctorate. Dr. Bruhn has a special interest and passion for safe food handling practices. Her major area of research is in consumer attitudes and perceptions of food quality, safety and wholesomeness. Dr. Bruhn travels widely and is a sought after speaker at both academic and government conferences on food safety and food handling and food processing technologies . She currently serves on several education and advisory panels including the Food and Drug Administration's Risk Communication Advisory Group. In addition, she is often contacted by members of the media when questions of food safety make the news, especially in her home state of California. Along with her interest in making sure everyone knows “How to determine when your food had gone bad,” she is an avid cook and enjoys sharing practical food safety tips with her family and friends. For more information on food safety and nutrition questions, please visit IFIC.org.
How to Tell if Your Pantry Foods Have Gone Bad
Christine Bruhn, Center for Consumer Research at UC Davis, shows how to know when it's time to throw out pantry foods.
Christine Bruhn: I am Christine Bruhn, University of California, Davis, the Department of Food Science and Technology. We have been talking about how to tell if your food has gone bad. Today, we are going to be focussing on what about the things in your cupboard? What should we tell, what should we look for to see if they are still good? Well, the first thing to do is to check on package integrity and that's even before you bring them home, when you are still at the store. Avoid dented cans, especially, if the dent is at the canned seam because this could provide a microscopic opening for bacteria to enter into that product and start making it go bad. So better not to choose canned foods that have dents at all. Look at package foods, in this case, the supermarket accidentally cut through the package and you don't know what kind of dirt or critters could have come in. so don't but this bag that has been broken and then once it is in your cupboard, watch out that you don't have any intruders. This bag of nuts was checked out by some four-legged creature, so you don't want that. Sorry, it has got to be thrown away too. Next thing to do is look at each individual product, keep in mind temperature and keep in mind what that product contains. Now something like breakfast cereals, they usually have dates on the top and that's your good guide for safety. The products, once they are opened, they can take up moisture from the air so if you are in that part of the road where it is fairly humid, you might enjoy these products with more of their original crisp texture if you put them in a really tight plastic container, but for safety, they will be fine within this time date, just keep them dry and that maintains their texture. Things that are canned last really well and they are excellent sources of a lot of nutrients. In fact, canned foods, although they lose a little nutrition right at the very beginning when they are first processed, they maintain nutritional level very, very well and by the time they are consumed, they are quite comparable to fresh and to frozen and in fact, canned tomato products have even more lycopene which is one of the very helpful antioxidant in tomato products, canned products have even more than fresh because the canning process opens up plant cells and makes that lycopene available to your body. So with canned products, don't keep them in a hot garage or over your stove, but they can last at good quality for a year quite easily. Similarly, with spices, they will change over time, but it is primarily losing strength of their odour, so don't put them in a hot place, don't put them over your stove and you can keep them for several months open, smell, taste, see if they still have the characteristics of the odour that you like and if not, go get a fresh one at the store. Syrups, this is a maple flavored syrup and it has sodium benzoate which is a preservative. That really has a very positive function. It is going to keep it from growing mold. So this product is safe in your cupboard for a long time, months and months, maybe even years and years. On the other hand, if you have real maple syrup, once you have opened it, mold spores can come in and the mold can start growing. So keep your real maple syrup in the refrigerator. Similarly, honey, it has got a very high sugar level. It does not need a preservative because of all the sugars that keeps bacteria from growing. What you will see with honey is that they will start to crystallize and that means one sugar molecule is lining up with another and it gets hard and crusty. So all you do is warm it up. Don't put it directly in the microwave because that might make it too hot and change the flavor. I put it in a container of hot water and in a few minutes, the sugar will dissolve again. The other factor to consider in looking at your pantry items is to consider fat content. Now something like white flour has the fat from flour. It is in the germ of the flour. The fat has been removed. So this product is pretty stable and it can be kept in the cupboard. But if you have brown flour or something like corn meal or some of these other products that contained fat, that fat can go rancid and the flavor can really change and be very unpleasant. Many of these products do not contain preservatives. If they had a preservative, they would stay fresh smelling for much longer, but they don't, so you have got to use your nose. Open up your brown rice, give it a sniff, open up your chips, give it a sniff either in the package or in the bowl. This particular one is rancid and it is going to be thrown out. Rancid fats are carcinogens, that means overtime with sufficient eating, they may be the cause for forming cancer. So you don't want that in your family at all. Check your oils, especially the nice oils that have polyunsaturated fatty acids. Because actually, they go rancid most quickly. So give them a sniff, keep them in a cool environment, again, not over your stove because heat induces rancidity. Nuts are another products that will go rancid quickly so test them with your nose and if you are going to be storing them for a long time because you have got a good deal, keep them in your refrigerator or freezer and only take out the ones that you eat right away. So to keep your pantry items safe, don't make them too hot and think about fat, use fat products quickly or put them in the refrigerator and then enjoy the convenience that canned products provide. Next, we are going to talk about how to wash produce.