Keep It or Toss It?

Island Epicure

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In June’s untraditionally hot weather, fruits grow riper fast in the fruit bowl, and anything left on the counter spoils promptly. But how can you tell whether to keep something or throw it away? Store cooked food in glass, labeled and dated, in the refrigerator. It will still be flavorful, nutritious, and safe for 4 days. On the 4th or 5th day at the latest, bring it back to the boil, let it cool until tepid, then transfer it to glass jars, lid them, date them, and refrigerate them again.

When food is labeled “Sell by (date)” that only means the store wants it purchased not later than that date. It doesn’t mean it’s not good for a few days. “Use by (date)” indicates the last date flavor and nutrition will remain at their peak. After that date they’re still safe to eat but may have lost some flavor and vitamins. Frozen foods have generally been picked at their best for flavor, rushed to the processing plant, and got into refrigeration as soon as possible.

Eggs stay fresh for three to five weeks when refrigerated. You can see how fresh an egg is by immersing it in water. If it sinks, it’s very fresh. If the egg moons you, and it’s hind end rises, it’s not very fresh. If the egg floats, it’s spoiled. Toss it.

Citrus fruits: Lemons and oranges  tend to mold in a few days, so it’s best to refrigerate them, but grapefruit remains unspoiled a bit longer, usually. Sometimes it develops brown spots of rot. Cut those out and use right away. If space in your fridge’s vegetable bin permits, fresh unpeeled grapefruit will remain in good shape for at least ten days.

Lettuce:  wrap in paper toweling, stick in one of those green plastic bags. The plastic should not touch the lettuce. The paper towels will absorb the moisture already on the lettuce or exhaled by it. This treatment prevents wilting. The head of lettuce will be crisp and delicious down to the last tiny leaf.

Apples: 1 week unrefrigerated, 4 to 6 weeks in refrigerator.

Pears: Nearly always unripe when put on display in the produce section. Time until ripe varies by the temperature in your pantry or kitchen. They are ready to eat when just somewhat tender. Then eat within a day or two. Refrigerated, though, they can be held 3 to 5 days., 2 months if frozen.

Peaches, plums and nectarines: 1 or 2 days unrefrigerated, 3 to 5 days refrigerated. You can use them in cooking even if still hard.

Grapes: Best keep in refrigerator. The grape bunch spoils unevenly, and the first to spoil alerts and attracts fruit flies.

Fish: Refrigerate and then eat the same day you buy it. Otherwise, freeze it at once. Lean fish like cod, halibut, and flounder will keep 6 to 10 months when frozen right after purchase,  fat fish–salmon and tuna– 2 to 3 months. Put a sticky-back label on the packet with the date you bought and froze it.

Beef: Tenderize, cut in cubes, marinate with finely chopped fresh garlic and gingerroot, the lot tossed with sesame oil. Use within 3 days or freeze.

Nuts: Pantry-stored unopened, up to 12 months; 2 to 9 months after opening,  jarred and refrigerated 4 to 6 months.

Soups: 3 to 4 days refrigerated, 3 to 4 months frozen.

Tea bags: 1 1/2 to 3 years in pantry in unopened package, 6 to 12 months after opening the package. Lose teas keep well in capped jars or closed metal canisters.

Summer squash and zucchini, 4 to 5 days in refrigerator.

Potatoes: 1 to 2 months. If they start to sprout, promptly remove the sprouts. They are toxic and bitter. Refrigerate if space permits Otherwise, wash, chop, cook and mash the de-sprouted potatoes. Frozen mashed potatoes keep 10 to 12 months