Buying food regularly is, to say the least, most annoying. One has to deal with the budgeting, the queues at the check-out counter, parking space at the mall and, for those of us without cars, how to actually get the groceries home.
This greatly influences our buying habits.
Which is why I suspect most of us believe in buying in bulk and keep items in our refrigerators and cupboards for as long as possible. (Roaches got to eat too.)
Then you are faced with another tricky part, that of the foods’ shelf life!
Most foods have their use-by dates. Unfortunately, some foods don’t last as long as the expiry date says, while others can still be usable way after the expiry dates displayed on the packaging.
Either way, we are always made to watch and worry because even the best ways of storage might not be enough to keep our foods in the best of conditions.
The older days in the village when mothers used to boil green vegetables and dry them in the sun then store them for months on end are gone.
I remember even meat being dried in thin long strips to make it last for months on end.
But our diets have changed a lot and some of the foods are difficult to handle and preserve.
Knowing proper storage ways will ease things for us. It is important, however, to note that food storage only helps the food to retain its shelf life and not create miracles.
I personally do not see the need to keep a food item for up to three months. Even if the packaging states that it can go for five years, once opened, whatever it is will just degrade with time, no matter what preservation method one has used.
Yes, Jesus fed those multitudes of followers fresh bread and fresh fish but you and I have to preserve our food in other ways.
Research has stated that the longest time most food items can be stored in the refrigerator is 1 year, save for staples (cereals), which, according to research, can last for at least three years.
I do not know if anyone out there is prepared to store rice for five years and then eat it. Why not just use it and replenish one’s pantry with fresher purchases?
And, regardless of excellent storage, is it really necessary to keep and eat meats that are over six months old?
While it is actually wise for ants to keep piling up foods for the cold season, it is ridiculous for human beings to pile on foods because we don’t hibernate.
Some people buy items and use them once and lose interest only to remember them at a later stage when they are broke and have no choice but eat what is available.
And today’s buying habits are greatly influenced by many things, especially sales and promotional price reductions. Thus, people end up buying much much more than they would otherwise buy just because their favourite brand of rice, tea or cooking oil is selling for half the regular price.
Even meats are put on promotional sale, forcing buyers to get more than their usual amounts of purchases and creating the need for good storage.
But, all things considered, this is detrimental to health, because other than losing its quality, the food goes bad and can cause sickness!
Storage is no guarantee that the food will remain good for the stated periods of time, especially when one considers the frequent power outages so prevalent today.
Remember that meats start deteriorating when the animal is slaughtered.
“Meat products easily get contaminated from dirty hands, and can get bacteria like ecoli and salmonella from humans and staphylococuss from nose, armpits and skin,” says Doctor Tuelo Ntwaagae.”These bacteria are commonly associated with food poisoning but they mainly come from humans, and easily contaminate meat products.”
It especially becomes scary when one considers the journey a piece of meat has travelled and the number of people it gets in contact with from the moment a beast is slaughtered until it is served on the table.
We just can’t be too careful and the longer the meat hangs around unused, the more chances of contamination.
Our own traditional methods of storage include the drying method.
Vegetables, legumes, cereals and meats are dried up in order to keep them usable longer.
What I like about the traditional method is the dehydrating of the meat or vegetable. They are so dried that there is absolutely no moisture left to cause any rotting.
Of course, the drying method has been in use for a long time and is recommended by many, as long as total dehydration is achieved otherwise it can be a breeding post for bacteria.
Ironically, the method does not provide for the food to be covered; it has to be left in the open to receive the full complement of the sun and it is at this stage that things can go wrong. Leaving the food open to insects like flies and cockroaches is not a great way to start!
The reason manufacturers put stamps on foods to tell you the use by date is just a guide. All one has to do is to go to the landfill and see people gathering tins and tins of expired foods that are then put back on the tuck shop shelves in Old Naledi.
However, it is important as consumers to use our own discretion and ask ourselves if we should really eat something that is more than a year old, regardless of how well preserved the foods might be.
And then there are those romantics who, on their wedding day, preserve a big slice of their wedding cake and give it to their child on his or her eighteenth birthday.
That is a different story for another day…