Thursday, 29 May 2014

Sight, smell, touch, taste and common sense.

When I was younger, food did not have sell-by dates. We used sight, smell, touch, taste and common sense.

By the end of the 1980s, sell-by, use-by, eat-by dates were on most food products. It seemed sensible at the time, but now there are at least two generations who stick rigidly to the dates printed on the packaging and throw away hundreds of pounds worth of perfectly good food on a daily basis.

At last, the supermarkets have realised there is scandalous problem of perfectly good food being thrown away.

What do I really know about it? Am I writing an opinion piece or do I know a little more?

From 1985-1994, I worked for Waitrose supermarkets. During that period, I held various management positions, including, fruit and veg manager, deli manager and fresh fish assistant manager. I attended fresh food handling and management courses.

The dates on food have 'lead' times. That is, time in days, before the foodstuff is considered out of date. It was known in the 1980s, that the high-end supermarkets had shorter 'lead' times, just to be on the really fresh side of things. eg: A pack of butter or bottle of milk from M & S or Waitrose, would have a shorter 'lead' time, than the identical product in Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda, Co-op. I don't know if this still happens, but I guess that it does.

I wince, but say nothing, when I see people throwing away perfectly good food. They are frightened that they will be poisoned. I have friends using their tried and tested common sense, but when their children visit home, the children panic at the sight of something past the printed date and throw it away. 

Personally, I will smell and touch fresh fish and meat and wouldn't take a chance, if I thought something felt or smelt odd. This means that on a few occasions, I have thrown away something within the date displayed.

I ignore the dates on milk products. eg: yogurts and cheese can last weeks passed the printed date. With eggs, I use the eggs in water test. As for the dates on tinned produce, some of it is ludicrous.

I was pleased to read this article in the Mail Online today.

The foods you can eat WEEKS after their best-before date: From vegetables to chicken, we reveal how you can tell if it's still fresh enough to consume . . .

We throw out seven million tonnes of food and drink a year
If average family thought before they threw, they could save £60 a month
Food is often edible past its best-before date
Here's how to tell...

PUBLISHED: 22:34, 28 May 2014 UPDATED: 08:21, 29 May 2014

Why do we do it? A perfectly good salmon fillet is chucked away because it is just past its best-before date. As a food writer, author and cook, I despair.
We throw out seven million tonnes of food and drink a year (19 per cent of what we buy), the majority of which could have been eaten.
According to the campaign Love Food Hate Waste, if the average family thought before they threw, they could save £60 a month. 
So, last week I cheered as senior supermarket executives from Sainsbury's, Waitrose and the Co-op admitted they regularly ignore expiry dates at home. 'The rule is: smell it,' said one manager from Morrisons.
Food is often edible past its best-before date. You just need to exercise common sense and use your eyes, hands and nose to determine how far you can go.

Here are my tips on how to tell if food is still fresh enough to eat...
For ripeness, you can't beat a tomato a week or two past its best-before date. The softer and wrinklier the better!
Unlike most vegetables, tomatoes get sweeter rather than starchier with time. Even if the fleshy insides look dark rather than yellow-orange, they are fine.
I'd avoid them only if they become watery, grow mould or have a whiff of alcohol

Filleted raw fish, such as cod, salmon and haddock, stays edible up to four weeks after catching, provided it is kept refrigerated below five degrees.
It stays safe, but will not taste good. Fish can take up to three weeks to get from the sea to the supermarket and because the date it's caught doesn't appear on the packaging, it's important to take care.
White fish should look translucent with glossy skin, no smell and the flesh should stay springy but firm when pressed.
If the flesh looks cloudy, leaves an indentation when pressed or smells of soap, chuck it.
The stale ammonia smell comes from lactic acid in disintegrating flesh. If the fish looks green, avoid like the plague.

Waste: We throw away 19 per cent of what we buy

Even if kept in the freezer, ice cream has a surprisingly short shelf life. This is because it has a high fat content - thanks to all the double cream - so never fully freezes. It will lose its fresh flavour within three months.
If ice cream darkens, tastes sour or of yoghurt or cream cheese, it's time to bin it.

There's not a lot of leeway with processed meats. Don't risk more than one day past the sell-by date.
When meat is processed, chopped or minced, it is exposed to bacteria such as E.coli, campylobacter or listeria in the air, which grow quickly even when refrigerated. If it looks dry or has a mouldy tinge, throw it away. If the sausage or burger is sticky rather than smooth and shiny, or has a darker hue, don't eat it.

I've eaten eggs up to five weeks after buying, but mostly it's wise to use them within three weeks of their best-before date.
To test, drop the egg into a glass of water. If it floats, it's gone off because as it ages, more air gets inside the shell through microscopic holes. At the same time, the moisture content  begins to evaporate, so the egg dries out. If it sinks, it's fine to eat.
Look for a red lion stamp on your egg box, which means it comes from a hen that has been vaccinated against salmonella.

Dig in: If there's no sign of mould, yoghurt can be eaten two months after the sell by date

I've eaten yoghurt up to two months after the sell-by date.
When it is made it undergoes a lactic fermentation process, a preservation method that stabilises fresh milk to make it last.
Throw away if you spot the faintest speck of mould - which on yoghurt can come in all colours of the rainbow. But if it looks clean and fresh, and tastes good, you should be fine.

Well-hung beef can taste fantastic after as long as five weeks and is quite safe if cooked well. You can easily stretch the best-before date by a few days.
But if rotten and putrid smelling, then it's a sign that red meat has gone off.
I've been known to eat beef even if it has a few mouldy spots. I take a clean cloth and wipe it with vinegar to remove bacteria before cooking. Roast it at a high heat and the outer layer, which has the most pathogenic potential, will be well cooked and the bacteria killed.
Cook until it is well done all the way through (which you always need to do if it's past its best-before date) and there will be little or no bacteria.

Ground spices such as chilli powder, paprika and cayenne can last for more than six months if they are labelled as 'steam pasteurised', 'fumigated with chemical gases' or 'radiated' - which means they've been sterilised to kill off mites.
These microscopic insects live in dry foods such as flour and spices. You won't be able to see them, but you might notice tiny pock marks where they've been burrowing down into food.
Mites spread fungal spores and can cause rashes and itches, so bin anything you see with pock marks.

Unlike fish, chicken deteriorates quickly.
The faintest whiff of rotting flesh or sour milk means it needs chucking, but give it a rinse under cool water before smelling to double-check the smell isn't coming from the packaging. Generally, don't risk eating chicken more than a day or two after its use-by date.
Often, after slaughter, the chicken is made easier to pluck by putting it in a simmering water bath to loosen the feathers, which accelerates the growth of bacteria.
This is how 99 per cent of the chickens sold in Britain are prepared.
Dry-plucked chicken (using hot wax, much like with human hair waxing) is a safer alternative and will last longer. Look for the processing method on the label.

@AlisonRRussell2014 and +Daily Mail 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Don't be afraid of change. Acceptance and Adapting.

The monthly column in The York Press on Monday, May 7th 2014

We started to drive to Pickering. The opening of John Lewis in York was mentioned on the radio. There was a lump in my throat, just as there had been, when Waitrose opened in the city in 2010.  Am I shopaholic? Not at all.

I moved to York from Buckinghamshire in 1994, leaving behind a good job at Waitrose. I had to adapt, start all over again and look for new opportunities.  If either Waitrose or John Lewis had been opened in 1994, I would probably still be working with them. It is most unlikely that there would be a published book or a regular newspaper column. I felt emotional about the unexpected achievements over twenty years, against all expectations.

My husband, Adrian, felt there was something wrong with the car’s steering and so we drove straight to the garage.  Pete, an acknowledged workaholic, was ready to help, as usual. But there had been changes since we last saw him. He told us that he’d been Christmas shopping with his wife in Newcastle last December, when he experienced a heart attack.

Pete had downsized, opened less days a week, chose his jobs carefully and was retraining to teach mechanics at college. He was thriving.

I looked at the two men, looking healthy and thought how near death they had both been in the previous six months. Both men had experienced different, out of the blue, life threatening ill health. Both are alive due to the expertise of the NHS. Both have dealt with shock and adjustment. Both have embraced the change and the chance to reassess their lives. Adrian looked at me. “You’re going to write about this, aren’t you?” Correct.

I thought of the chef, Gordon Ramsey, whose dream of being a professional footballer was thwarted by injury and he had to change his plans.

I thought of the artist Henri Matisse, who stopped painting due to ill health, but found that he could sit in bed with a pair of scissors and paper instead. He said, “why didn’t I do this earlier?”  The exhibition of his ‘cut-outs ‘ is at The Tate Modern until September.

I thought of the Paralympians.

The common factor is that after the initial shock and adjustment, the people mentioned, didn’t look to blame and lose control of their situation. They took personal responsibility to change and took control instead.


There are many inspirational quotes available, though often, people prefer to collect them, rather than put them into action. 

This is my favourite quote. If actioned, it would lead to less emotional health problems, waiting lists for therapists and questionable prescriptions.

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” Helen Keller.