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Published February 06, 2014, 09:34 PM

Prairie Fare: Are your cupboards ready for a reality show?

I flipped on a reality-type TV show one day. A camera crew captured footage of someone climbing over a mountain of boxes, clothing and trash to get around his home. The piles were so high that his head nearly touched the ceiling.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

I flipped on a reality-type TV show one day. A camera crew captured footage of someone climbing over a mountain of boxes, clothing and trash to get around his home. The piles were so high that his head nearly touched the ceiling.

The next time I opened my cupboard, I thought about that episode. I don’t like to waste food, but was I “hoarding” food that was lower in quality or potentially unsafe? I tossed a couple of things that were well past their prime.

Let’s take an imaginary trip through a cupboard. We’ll shrink a food inspector to doll-size so he can climb around in a cupboard. Our imaginary inspector, Ben, will accompany Sandy, a homeowner, through her cupboard.

“Hey, Ben, are you ready for this? Sandy’s cupboard hasn’t been sorted in a while,” I said as I looked into the cupboard.

“Let’s get to work,” Ben said as he crawled over some boxes and cans to the back of the cupboard. He turned on a flashlight.

Ben began to sort the canned goods, and Sandy helped hoist the cans.

“Ben, these dates are really confusing! I write my date of purchase on the cans and packages of foods, but I don’t understand what the manufacturers’ dates mean. Some food packages say ‘use by’ and other foods say ‘sell by.’ This baby formula has an expiration date. What does this mean?” Sandy asked as she pointed at a date stamp.

“The sell-by date is meant for the store. The use-by date is a quality date. It’s the last date recommended for use of the product while it is at peak quality. The food may be safe to eat, but the texture and even the nutritional value may decline over time. You should not feed your baby any formula past its expiration date,” Ben replied, as he dusted off a can of mandarin oranges.

“How long do canned fruit and canned vegetables maintain their quality?” Sandy asked.

“Well, I see you’ve had these oranges for 3½ years. Acidic foods, such as commercially canned fruits and vegetables, are of best quality when used within 18 months. Low-acid foods, such as commercially canned vegetables and tuna, have a storage life of two to five years. Your oranges are past their prime and may have some flavor and texture changes,” he replied.

“How about my home-canned salsa from last summer,” Sandy asked as she moved two jars of salsa. “Everyone loves it!”

“This looks tasty. To have a safe home-canned product, you need to begin with a safe recipe. Did you follow the recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture or your local Extension Service?” he asked.

“Yes, I did!” she said as she moved the salsa to one section.

“That’s good. We find too many people who experiment with home canning and that’s not safe. Home-canned goods are at their best quality if used in a year but are safe longer than that,” he noted.

“I haven’t done very much baking lately. How long are baking powder and cake mixes OK?” Sandy asked as she held a container of baking powder from 2005.

“According to the USDA, for best quality, store baking powder for up to six months in an unopened container or for three months after opening. Cake and brownie mixes are of best quality when stored for no more than a year on your shelf,” Ben noted.

“Sandy, I see bottles of bleach and dish soap. Be careful not to keep cleaning agents with food items,” Ben remarked as he separated the items.

“Oops. I ran out of space in my closet. I will move those!” Sandy noted.

“After grocery shopping, rotate your stock so you don’t lose track of what you have. Put your oldest food in the front so you use it first,” Ben noted before he jumped out of the cupboard with a jar of salsa in his arms.

“I have some tortilla chips in the other cupboard,” Sandy said with a laugh.

Do you have any spaghetti sauce and rice in your cupboard? Pick up some vitamin C-rich peppers, meat and any other ingredients you need to make these tasty stuffed peppers.

For more information about nutrition and health, including a free monthly e-newsletter, check out the “Boomers and Beyond website at www.ndsu.edu/boomers.

Stuffed Peppers

1 cup cooked white or brown rice (start with Zc cup uncooked)

1 pound extra-lean ground beef (or Italian sausage)

2 tablespoons chopped onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

4 large bell peppers (red or green)

2 cups spaghetti sauce, divided

¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare rice as directed on the package (or use leftover rice). In a skillet, cook ground beef, onion and garlic over medium heat until brown. Drain the meat. Add rice and 1 cup of spaghetti sauce to the meat, and heat.

Cut a slice from the end of each pepper and remove the top of the pepper, the seeds and membranes. If necessary, cut a thin slice from the bottom of each pepper so they stand upright. Rinse the peppers thoroughly.

Fill a 4-quart pot about half full and heat water to boiling. Add peppers and cook for two minutes, then drain.

Stand the peppers upright in an ungreased 8-inch glass baking dish. Stuff with rice and meat mixture. Pour remaining spaghetti sauce over the peppers. Cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes.

Uncover, then bake for an additional 15 minutes or until peppers are tender. Just before serving, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.

Makes four servings. When made with brown rice and low-sodium spaghetti sauce, each serving has 410 calories, 15 grams (g) of fat, 44 g of protein, 23 g of carbohydrate, 5 g of fiber and 310 milligrams of sodium.

Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professior in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.