If you’ve read my articles in the past, then you know that I usually take issue with folks who are naïve and spread their ill-informed opinions around—usually to the demise or hindrance of other’s preparedness efforts. Well, yesterday I was
commenting on a couponing forum to a gal about how her addiction to brownies no longer needed to be hindered by the expiration dates on her mixes if she was properly equipped with a FoodSaver. Unfortunately, a naïve, very ill-informed person got after me and claimed that it was unethical and just plain wrong for me to tell anyone that they could store any food product for that long. She even went so far as to present the grid that FoodSaver publishes which is their official claim in terms of how long food can be preserved with the benefit of a FoodSaver. (Obviously, the claims were nowhere near the time periods I had expressed.) So, today’s article is in honor of those who have been duped into believing that the expiration dates printed on a food product are some kind of a Cardinal rule to live by. And I’m even going to tell you exactly why they are not.
The Reason for Expiration Dates
In a previous article I shared with you that “expiration dates are created for one reason and one reason only” and that was to protect the food manufacturers from any legal liability. It’s not liability from food poisoning so much as it is false advertising. For example, if you store your cereal that claims it has 100% of a days worth of Vitamin C, well, that won’t be accurate if you store it forever, right? Eventually the nutritional value will be lost and yet they will still have printed on the box an assertion regarding the Vitamin C content. With this article however, I’m also going to show you a couple of other darker sides in the use of expiration dates.
One of my food storage heroes, Wendy Dewitt
First of all, let’s face it. Food doesn’t poison a person. Germs and molds IN the food do. So let’s make sure we’re battling the correct culprit here. If you can store a food in such a way that you inhibit the growth of “critters,” then you will outlast the deadline of any of the expiration dates on the planet. Oxygen, light, and heat are your enemies when it comes to preserving food. If you can control the exposure your food has to those beastly enemies, then you can control the longevity of your foods. One of my personal food storage heroes, Wendy DeWitt, has successfully stored Snickers candy bars for eight years by adhering to this battle plan. (How she refrained from eating it that long is beyond me.) The Snickers tasted just as wonderful as it did the day she bought it. I have successfully stored brown sugar, brown rice, oats, Keebler Fudge-Striped Cookies, nuts, chocolate chips, Peanut M&Ms, pudding mixes, Rice-a-Roni, and other packaged foods (even with hydrogenated oils) successfully in my cool, dry, basement for over 10 years by eliminating oxygen, light, and heat!
Of course there’s no manufacturer on the planet that is going to say “You can store this $2 box of cake mix for 10 years, so stock up when they are on sale and never think about buying them again for 10 years”, right? Think about this for a moment. You can store sugar for years and years. You can store cocoa for years. You can store spices for years. And you can store oils for years. So what makes a package of brownie mix exempt from being stored just as long? Oh. It’s those mean, ole’, ugly, expiration dates on there, eh?
Key Reason Expiration Dates are Used
This leads me to another one of the dirty little secrets of the food manufacturing industry. Another key reason for issuing expiration dates on a particular product (and in some cases their 1st consideration) is for marketing purposes. They don’t want you to take advantage of that special at the grocery store in which you can get a box of brownie mix for only .47 cents, stock up, and not buy their brownie mix again for years. Their strategy, when they work with retailers to create a special sale, as well as print and distribute coupons, is that you will TRY a product that you may not have tried otherwise, and/or to increase their sales by 3-12% in order to keep stockholders happy. But darn it. They can’t combat the savvy couponers out there who will stock up on products when such deals come along and who then buys 10 boxes of brownies, or cereal, or pasta sauce, etc. So what counter measures do they employ in order to force even the coupon crazies to fall in line and buy the product again and again? They convince the consumers that the food will be rotten, disgusting, and just plain scary after those expiration dates. This isn’t about rationing food or keeping you safe, folks. This is about selling more product. Tell me you haven’t fallen for it before? Sure the cereal tastes stale after it’s sat in your pantry for too long. But you didn’t repackage it, did you? Sure you’ve had salad dressing that goes rancid after being stored too long. But that doesn’t make expiration dates rule the be all and end all for every food. (Note: I haven’t found a way to make salad dressing last much longer than 6 months outside of refrigeration past expiration dates listed. So instead I like to also store items that I can successfully MAKE dressings with to use on my sprouts.)
Also, here’s another little secret to let you in on. When the coloring changes in a food, it does NOT mean that the original nutritional value has been altered yet.
About 8 years ago I read a study that the Army had done to determine the expiration of MREs. (I WISH I had known that I would be writing like this professionally many years later so that I could provide it to you. But even a lengthy look on Google didn’t turn up anything—yet.) While MREs are indeed created to undergo more extreme storage conditions, the key results of the study were interesting. The Army study discovered that despite the intended 3 year expiration dates posted on MRE's, the meals continued to provide their original nutrition value for 25 years and only then began to have coloration variances.
Just in case some of you are wondering what the heck a FoodSaver has to do with significantly extending the life of your foods, I’ll remind you of one of my well-used tactics.
You can stuff a Mason jar with any dry ingredient such as rice, nuts, chocolate chips, granola, etc. Place the lid, no ring, on the jar. Connect the air port from the FoodSaver to your Mason Jar attachment with the hose that comes with the FoodSaver. Place the jar attachment on top of your jar. Turn on your FoodSaver, and bzzzzzz…a moment later you have successfully sucked out the oxygen from your jar. After doing so you should store it away from heat and regular light. As such you will win the battle against expiration dates.
Here’s some really good news. As it turns out, if you have the canisters that typically come with the FoodSaver, you don’t need the Mason Jar attachment. All you have to do is put the jar with the lid on it inside the canister and then seal the canister like you would with anything else inside. Doing so actually sucks the air out of your jar. Simply remove the seal to the canister once you’ve done the seal process and then store your jar. Pretty cool, eh? (To be on the extra safe side, I would use the jar sealer though if I had my druthers.) The nice thing is WHEN you do get into that jar of Peanut M&Ms, so long as you don’t ruin the lid trying to dig in feverishly, you can simply reseal the jar again and again. In fact, since your seal is not reliant on the rubber ring getting hot, you can even use old lids that you may have left over from other canning projects. Simply make sure they are nice and clean when you use them.
Just in case any of you are looking for the jar attachments, FoodSaver isn’t offering the regular sized one right now, only the wide-mouth. But a Google search will easily pull up several options for you.
Well, I hope that clears up expiration dates for you. And I hope that you are never duped by them again.
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The Food Saver is WELL worth the investment. We love ours because it makes stockpiling a lot easier.
Of course, storing leftovers in Food Saver bags is also nice because they tend to take up less room...and are very easy to reheat the next day.
Keep an eye out on E-bay. I just snagged me another one for only $34. :-)
I was a naive expiration date believer until I married my scientific husband. Now he's got me eating past dated refrigerated and dried goods all the time. Someday I'll get me a food saver, when we can afford it. Can't wait!
I just picked up the regular and wide-mouth size Foodsaver attachments at Cabelas.com last week. $9.95 each. And I have been having so much fun ever since!
I just bought 3 litres of Canola Oil for what seemed like a screaming deal, but couldn't find the expiration date. I went to the company website and got the information to decode the numbers on the Oil. 33028 means the Third Quarter; the 3rd month of that quarter; the day and the year - So the oil was manufactured on Sept 2, 2008. Great...it's only supposed to be good for a year from the manufactured date...tomorrow! No wonder it was such a good buy...How much longer do you think it will be good for?
Really good information, thank you so much!
First of all, I think you should take the oil back and exchange it for better dated oil. Good buys are not supposed to be because the product/shelf life is compromised. If you store it in a cool, dry place with no regular light, you should be fine for an extra 18 months past the expiration date on oils. However, I would consider purchasing shortening for as much as you are able to use, as it will store 5 years unopened in quality storage conditions. Olive oil is also a great investment. Cold Pressed Coconut oil will last almost indefinitely if stored properly.
Thanks so much for the info:)
I got a foodsaver last year for free at a yardsale. It was the last day late and they said just take it away. The canisters seemed a little out of my budget. So, I just picked up 6 Wide mouth 1/2 gallon canning jars for $8.50. Woohoo, I'll order the adapter and I am ready to go to town. Thanks for the info
Again you are on top of your game!
I love my food saver and have many foods that I have had in storage for years; as long as the lid stays snug they are great. I have had a couple that evidently weren't sealed well enough and the lids came loose. Since the foods were dry packed they were okay. It is important to occasionally inspect the foods to be sure the quality is still good. Wendy does it every New Years Day, samples one of each variety or item and then either reseals it or puts it into rotation for the coming year in her pantry.
When we moved 1200 miles last year I simply slipped each jar into a plastic grocery bag (another way to recycle them) and packed them adjacent to each other in the boxes that #10 cans come in. All boxes are the same size so they stacked very nicely on the moving truck. I did put a screw-on band on each jar just in case the jarring (pardon the pun) of the truck was to vigorous but not a problem with any of them.
This is one appliance that I would not want to do without! They make great wedding gifts!
I add my endorsement to these comments about the Foodsaver.
So far we've "canned" all of our dehydrated veggies and our chocolate stash using the suction method.
We also converted a 4-drawer filing cabinet into a storage area; it holds quite a few jars, stays dark inside, blends in with the home office environment, and can be locked if need be.
Thanks so much for the good info. I am a new Food Saver owner but I am already a believer. I absolutely love this thing and am picking up accessories as I find them!!
Thank you so much for this information. I am printing it off to give to my mom tonight. She won't even touch something that's beyond it's expiration date so this will be good information to share, especially as I'm encouraging her to start their food storage. Love your site, as I'm new to storage too. Thanks for all the great articles!
I would love your opinion on this new Food Saver gizmo...seems pretty affordable up front as long as you can reuse the bags. What do you think? Unnecessary if you have the regular food saver already?
I checked it out. I like it for the purposes of sealing the wide mouth jars. That's a heck of a lot less expensive than the other one. I bought one on e-bay the other day for 40 bucks or so with the shipping. But yes, unnecessary if you already have a Food Saver. Otherwise, I'd say go for it!
How would you use it on jars?
There's a wide mouth jar attachment you can obtain and use. Read the Hierarchy of Fruits and Vegetables article I wrote earlier this week. That will explain it.
Sorry...I thought you were saying you could use the new Foodsaver Handheld "Freshsaver" on the jars...I misunderstood. Thanks for you comments:)
You CAN...with the attachment.
I seem to have trouble making new lids seal properly on mason jars. I have been saving nice used lids for a couple of years to use for target practice. Tried one just for a lark and it sealed up great. My wife is kind enough to wash them with the regular dishs. So long as they are clean and seal up I don't see the problem with using them.
Are you talking about making them seal under pressure or with a FoodSaver?
Nice article! Expiry dates and other dates on commercially packaged foods are often quite confusing to consumers.
I keep a very well stocked pantry exceeding the goal of keeping a 1 year supply of food. In reality my pantry stocks would last closer to 2 years. A good portion of my pantry stock is home canned foods and at over 1,000 jars per year it does add up :) I also dry a lot of foods so the FoodSaver is a must. The picture depicting the mason jar sealer is a bit misleading as a FoodSaver is not a substitute for proper canning. Green beans would require actual heat processing. I like vacuum sealing dried foods in mason jars and recycled mayo jars for longer storage. The canisters are great for shorter term storage.
The FoodSaver mason jar sealers are available in both widemouth and standard sizes. If you can't find the size you need check their website as you can likely order online.
To be clear, the foodsaver is PERFECT for preserving dry items--such as almonds, coconut, brown sugar, brown rice, Snickers, Peanut M&Ms. :-)
I just received my regular mason jar attachment in the mail. It doesn't work. I called Foodsaver, and they gave me afew tips, but said they would send me out a new one in a couple of months when they have them back in stock.
There is a review that says the regular one does not work. Have you had a bad experience with this attachment?
(My Wide-Mouth attachment works like a dream, no problems whatsoever.)
Perhaps Foodsaver is out of them because of this problem and they are making a new design?
I stack two lids (flat lids) on top of each other and it's worked just fine for me.
where do i buy the FOODSAVER and attachments?
Kellene, I'm soooo dissapointed. Today my foodsaver and attachments came UPS and the hose. got my jars ready and my husband was wanting to do it so I let him, first we watched your video on how you use it, went and did it the first time, lid came right off, after about 15 tries we finally gave up. I had ordered the wide mouth and regular attachment, now I had no lids for the widemouth but had brand new lids and rings for the regular, we doubled checked everything, made sure the rim was dry and clean, no chips or cracks in jar, all ports were properly snug on both ends put attachment on then the tube and so on, but when we were looking at the wide mouth attachment and compared it to the regular mouth attachment we noticed the ring on the regular one was way down in the attachment compared to the wide mouth rubber ring, so then we took the wide mouth jar anyway with out the lid and put it on the wide mouth jar and it snapped on real tight and we noticed the blue ring was snug down around the jar, the regular mouth ring did not do that so we're wondering if maybe there might be a defect on the small mouth attachment...guess I need to call the company and see if they can replace the ring or may have to get a whole brand new attachment this is how my luck goes. I've been waiting for weeks to get this and it looks like I'm gonna have to wait some more...so dissapointed
Donna, You already posted this question on Facebook and I've answered it there. Please keep in mind that when you post multiple times, it gives me multiple times the work. :-( There is a more current article written on trouble shooting with the foodsaver that you can look up on here. This probably isn't the best article to answer in as the answer won't be seen by a lot of folks. But your answer lies on the FB page AND within the most recent article. Good luck. (of course it is possible that you may have a faulty piece, but this doesn't sound like an abnormal issue to me as of yet)
I guess I got lucky. My regular sized food saver jar attachment just came in the mail-yesterday. I ordered it online from the Foodsaver website. I also lucked into half gallon canning jars at a yard sale. They were dirt cheap because the woman said "Oh you can't use them for canning." I just vacuum packed 6 pounds of orzo pasta into one jar! Shake and pat it until the contents settle and you can get a lot in! Guess I will workon my chocolate storage next...
I had so many dried tomatoes
I had so many dried tomatoes and potatoes, I used the 1/2 gallon jars.
I have found that my wide mouth jar sealer is hard to remove and the seals are hard to remove, and that is a good thing!!!
JayJay--just a tip, if you
JayJay--just a tip, if you remove the hose BEFORE trying to remove the sealer part, it's a little easier to remove, but more importantly, it maintains your seal better. ;-)
I purchased honey, oil, vinegar and molasses in 5 gallon buckets. I have now transferred all of that into 1-gallon glass jars (the kind apple juice comes in) ~ only thing is, I don’t know how to make them airtight. The jar top is too small for the reg jar lid, on the other hand, the top is too large for the small wine bottle size lid. I don’t want something to grow inside as it is not airtight. Any suggestions? I don’t believe there is a ‘time line’ for honey, vinegar or molasses? I have olive oil in tin cans (was told that it would last almost indefinitely in tin?), and coconut oil is in gallon food grade plastic.
I am Celiac, so have purchased several box mixes as I can not do the #10 cans ‘out there’ with multi ingredient items. When using 'dated' boxes of baking mixes... how far after date would one need to add more leavening to say a cake, muffin or cookie mix? What about ‘hamburger helper’ mixes? I took the mixes out of their boxes and food saver bagged the ingredients. I don’t think anything within the ingredients should go ‘bad’…
Thanks for your insite.
You don't have to worry about the honey and vinegar so much as you do need to be mindful of the molasses and oil. As I'm sure you know, those are some pretty pricey items to "ruin." Did you check into gamma lids? I loathe the company Emergency Essentials, but they have the gamma lids on sale for $6.50 each right now. I'd invest in a sure way of sealing those items. Olive oil won't last indefinitely as a broad statement. It all depends on what kind of olive oil it is. It will indeed get rancid over time if it's not the Extra Virgin.
I've used cake mixes and such 7 to 8 years after their sell-by date. But I preserved them exactly as you described. I'd do the Hamburger Helper mixes the same way.
OK, so I have some Albertson's brand apple juice that says use by 2006. I opened one today and tasted it - it was delicious. I have several bottles - should I throw them out just to be safe?
I think you just answered your question. :-)
Do you know about baking
Do you know about baking mixes , cookies , cakes , brownies if their in original pigs. ? I don't own a food saver ? Thank you
I have mine last 7 years with