Want to know something that drives me crazy?
Normally I’m a pretty relaxed person. But. When chefs / recipes writers give insanely conservative estimates of how long food will last. It really makes me mad.
I understand that no one wants to get sued from making someone sick. But what about all the food that gets wasted?
Seriously, my home made mayo is only going to last in the fridge for 3 days? Then how come I’m still alive and have been eating 2 week old mayo on a regular basis for years?
OK. Calm down Jules.
So when I got the following comment from one of my cooking school students, I thought it was a perfect excuse for a rant, which fortunately we’ve already got out of the way.
It’s also a great reason to help you make educated decisions for yourself. Oh and save lots of harmless deliciousness from meeting an untimely end!
“I am amazed how well fresh fruit and veg last when stored correctly. I often threw out food after 2-3 days before as I didn’t know how long it could last in the fridge so thank you so much for sharing that information.
One question: how do you know if food is no longer edible? Do you do a smell test and/or trust your judgement?“
Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School Student
How do you know when food is still safe to eat?
1. Fresh Produce
With fresh produce you can tell by looking.. Wilted / browned / sad looking / slimy are all signs your fresh produce is ‘past it’. Eating this produce won’t make you sick, especially if you cook it but it’s not necessarily tasty. Use your judgement on what can be ‘rescued’ and what needs to go to the chooks / compost.
2. Leftover Cooked Food
First, have a good look. If you see mould or yeast spots (little shiny spots) growing then throw it out. These are generally the first to grow long before any bacteria that will make you sick.
Occasionally I’ll scrape off the mouldy bits and eat the rest (after a thorough reheating). But if serving to others, especially my children, I don’t risk it.
But if there’s no visible signs of spoilage and I’m still a bit concerned, I use the ‘smell test’. If it smells funny or just ‘not right’ then again turf it.
And if it’s passed both tests above but I’m still a little concerned, I make sure I heat it until it’s super hot before serving.
3. Packaged Food
One of my jobs when I was working in the food industry was to determine how long to allow as the shelf life on breakfast cereals, snacks and biscuits (cookies). We were always really conservative because we wanted to make sure the consumer had a great experience.
It wasn’t like one day the food tasted amazing and the next day it didn’t taste good any more. The changes in an unopened packet would gradually happen over months. The first sign would usually be a dulling of flavour or change in texture.
These products would still be edible years after the best before date expired. By their nature (very low moisture) there wasn’t any risk of food poisoning. They just wouldn’t taste very good.
But what if I’m still worried?
Please, please trust your own judgement. If it’s going to stress you out to eat something you’re better off to throw it out and waste a little food.
There aren’t any prizes for bravery in the face of questionable food stuffs, at least none that I know of.
Chinese Beef Cheeks
Beef cheeks are one of my favourite cuts of meat. If you’re wondering they’re actually the cheeks of the cow from the face… Not the behind! I love them because they’re full of gelatinous goodness and cook down to be super moist and flavoursome. You might need to them from your butcher but they’re seriously worth the effort.
This recipe is my simplified version of Sarah Wilson’s beef cheeks in her fab book Simpilicious. It’s one of the few things I make in my slow cooker without browning the meat either before or after slow cooking. The soy sauce is the secret ingredient here which adds all the lovely complex ‘brown’ flavours… A little slow cooker magic!
enough for 4
takes 6-12 hours
1kg (2lb) beef cheeks
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
1 bunch green onions (scallions) chopped
1-4 large red chillies
cauliflower rice or steamed rice, to serve
1. Chop beef cheeks into 2-3 large chunks each. Place in your slow cooker (oven instructions below) with the soy sauce, 5-spice, most of the green onions, chillies and 1/2 cup water.
2. Cover and cook on low for 10-12 hours or high for 5-6 hours. They’re done when the beef is super tender.
3. Taste and season with extra soy, if needed (it usually doesn’t). Serve on a bed of rice / cauli rice with with extra green onion on top.
additional flavours – a few cloves or garlic and some finely chopped ginger are lovely additions but not essential!
no slow cooker – just pop everything in a large casserole dish with an extra 1/4 cup water (so 1/2 cup in total). Cover with baking paper as above and seal the top with two layers of foil. Bake for 4-5 hours at 120C (250F) or until beef cheeks are super tender.
soy-free – use coconut aminos instead or 1/4 cup fish sauce and 1/4 cup beef stock.
no beef cheeks – use your favourite slow cooking cut of meat such as osso buco, beef short ribs, chuck steak, brisket, chicken drumsticks, pork ribs, pork shoulder, pork neck, lamb shanks. But beef cheeks really are worth tracking down!
vegetarian – replace beef cheeks with large flat mushrooms or sliced eggplant and use a good veg stock instead of the water – just roast in the oven covered (180C / 350F) for about an hour – you don’t get the benefits of slow cooking veggies that you see with meat. Serve with a generous handful of roasted cashews for extra protein and fat.
ps. How do you feel about this?
Are you happy to trust your own judgement? Got some questions? I’d love to hear in the comments below…