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Prairie Fare: When it comes to perishable foods, when in doubt, throw it out

"Mom, something in the fridge smells terrible," my 20-year-old son announced. I was in the living room.I would have been very happy if he would have done the investigation to determine the cause. However, he was gone by the time I walked into the...

This recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup can help you use up some food inventory in your cupboard and/or freezer. (NDSU photo)
This recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup can help you use up some food inventory in your cupboard and/or freezer. (NDSU photo)

"Mom, something in the fridge smells terrible," my 20-year-old son announced. I was in the living room.

I would have been very happy if he would have done the investigation to determine the cause. However, he was gone by the time I walked into the kitchen. I carefully opened the fridge, half expecting a giant germ to reach out and throttle me.

The offending food was leftover cooked broccoli from the previous day. The cover on the container was slightly open.

Cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts, have sulfur-containing substances that are responsible for their aroma during cooking and their positive health effects.

I closed the cover on the broccoli and made plans to add it to soup. My son was not going to escape this vegetable.

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Later, while I was on the phone, my 17-year-old daughter walked over with a gallon of milk. She pointed to the date on the carton. The date had passed the previous day. I pantomimed drinking milk and nodded my head.

The date on the carton for milk usually is a "sell by" date. This is the last day that a store can have the food on its shelf. Milk is fine for several days beyond the date if stored between 38 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Our refrigerator temperature was set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

My daughter enjoyed a healthful beverage with nine essential nutrients, including protein and bone-building calcium and vitamin D.

Because many foods are perishable, you have to keep an ongoing eye on your inventory to be sure you do not end up having to toss it. Smelling or examining food does not always tell you if the food is safe.

In general, leftover perishable foods (cooked meat, casseroles, vegetables) kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below should be used within three or four days. Based on that timing, our leftover broccoli was OK.

Expiration dates are not required on foods except baby foods and infant formula. Do not use infant foods past the expiration date for nutritional and, potentially, food safety reasons.

However, many foods carry a "best if used by" or "use by" date. If you use the food by this date, the product will be at its highest quality in terms of color, texture and flavor. Eggs last at least a month beyond the sell-by date if stored in a refrigerator.

For all the other foods, a uniform system of food dating does not exist. Meat, poultry and seafood are among the most perishable foods in your refrigerator. Be sure to use ground meat or poultry within a couple of days of purchase and whole-muscle meat (roasts, etc.) within about four days, or wrap appropriately and freeze.

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See the North Dakota State University "Food Storage Guide" at tinyurl.com/NDSUFoodStorageGuide for general guidelines on storing a wide range of food products. See the "Food Freezing Guide" at tinyurl.com/NDSUFoodFreezingGuide for more information.

Remember the old rule for perishable foods: "When in doubt, throw it out."

As I was perusing our fridge and cupboards, I noticed some "inventory" that needed to be used soon. For best flavor, spices also should be moved along, but they are safe for a long time.

I am featuring two recipes that might help you use some food inventory in your cupboard and/or freezer. The first recipe is a low-sodium Mexican Blend Seasoning that can be added to ground beef or chicken to make tacos or fajitas. You also can use part of the mixture in the soup recipe that my student interns tried at NDSU. The soup recipe was a big hit.

Make Your Own Mexican Blend Seasoning

1½ teaspoons dried parsley (or dried cilantro)

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

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1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1½ teaspoons cumin

Mix and store in a tightly closed container in a cool, dry place.

Yields about 3½ tablespoons of mix.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 (16-ounce) jar chunky salsa (mild or medium)

3 cups chicken stock, reduced sodium

2 tablespoons Mexican Blend Seasoning (see recipe)

1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 (16-ounce) bag of frozen corn

1 pound chicken breast (boneless/skinless)

Optional toppings (shredded cheese, yogurt)

Slice the chicken into strips and place in slow cooker (at least 3-quart size). After canned items (except salsa) are drained and rinsed, place all the remaining ingredients in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6 to 7 hours or high for 4 hours. Shred the chicken with two forks until bite-sized. If desired, top individual servings with a pinch of shredded cheese and a dollop of yogurt. Note: You can substitute low-sodium taco seasoning to taste.

Makes about 10 servings (1 cup per serving). Each serving has 210 calories, 2.5 grams (g) fat, 19 g protein, 30 g carbohydrate, 8 g fiber and 530 milligrams sodium.

Garden-Robinson is a food and nutrition specialist for the NDSU Extension Service.

Related Topics: RECIPESNUTRITIONFOOD
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