Prairie Fare: Food storage questions abound in COVID-19 pandemic

“We’re eating out of the freezer,” one of my Facebook friends said. “What do you think of this really, really old pizza we bought from a kid who was fundraising?”

A picture of an ice-covered, dried out, grayish pizza sitting on a pan accompanied his Facebook post. He’s a funny guy.

It looked very freezer-burned to me and not appetizing at all.

“Scrape the ice from the pizza so you don’t get a soggy crust,” some advised.

Later, my Facebook friend reported the pizza was “really nasty,” even with extra cheese.

He didn’t report getting sick but, obviously, he didn’t enjoy the product.

Others commented about the nearly “antique” food they are finding in their homes.

Freezer burn is a quality issue, not a safety issue. It occurs when the surface of food dehydrates due to exposure to the air, usually because of packaging issues. Freezer-burned food does not cause food-borne illness.

On another day, the same Facebook friend posted a picture of 10-year-old frozen ground beef. On a positive note, the meat was wrapped in white butcher paper and was clearly marked.

I think he was expecting me to fall off the couch in my home as I browsed his Facebook posts.

Many people have “stocked up” during the pandemic, while others are exploring the dark recesses of cupboards, refrigerators and freezers.

How long does food “last” anyway?

Most food lasts longer than we might think, but not forever. Unfortunately, confusion about what dates mean can cause people to throw away food unnecessarily. A date on a package may prompt them to throw away the product on that date, even if the food is safe to eat.

Keep in mind that product dates are not an exact science. The storage length of food depends on many factors, including packaging and storage conditions such as temperature. Be sure to maintain your refrigerator at 40 F and your freezer at 0 F, as checked with appliance thermometers.

Unfortunately, people discard a lot of food. In fact, an estimated 40% of food is wasted, and that’s not a good thing.

For years, we have seen “sell by” and “best if used by” on packages. The “sell by” date is a date meant for stores. The food industry is making efforts to standardize the term “best if used by” on products, so you will see this quality date more often. The industry wants you to enjoy the food at its best.

If you like high-tech solutions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) teamed up with Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute to create the “FoodKeeper App” to download on your phone or other device. It allows you to browse by category.

See for the online, searchable version.

Keep in mind that bacteria can grow at refrigerator temperatures. Freezing food such as meat does not kill bacteria, but it stops bacteria from growing. If thawed improperly, bacteria can grow quickly.

Therefore, be sure to thaw meat in the refrigerator or microwave, not on your countertop.

According to the USDA, ground beef can be stored in your refrigerator for up to two days for quality and safety reasons.

If you cannot use fresh meat within a reasonable time, freeze it for longer-term storage.

Frozen ground beef retains its best quality if used within four months but retains its safety as long as it remains solidly frozen.

Canned vegetables, by the way, last up to five years on your shelf and canned fruit lasts up to 18 months, according to the USDA. Be sure to label the cans with the purchase date and arrange them in a first-in, first-out order on your shelves.

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