Food Expiration News and Soy Products
Jonathan Bloom's Wasted Food Blog is always a great resource for an issue that affects institutions, restaurants and individuals alike: how to organize ourselves so that we use the best of food before it becomes its own doppelganger. One of the strengths of the blog is that he references other countries' responses to food waste, reminding us to learn from others' practices and innovations.
Apparently, there's a lot going on in the UK:
Moving to a two date labeling system, Bloom suggests, would be one solution. The "sell by" date would be clearly directed at grocers, while the "use by" date would be more of a suggestion to customers.
While I do tend to use a common-sense approach to food labels, there is one food that fills me with dread: my beloved tofu. As a vegetarian on a high-protein diet, I eat a lot of tofu. Most of it is in the form of the Tetra-Pak bricks, though the kind that you fish out of a barrel of water--the ultra-dense "Chinese style" tofu--is the tastiest and most useful in the kitchen. If I can't remember opening it a few days before, I'll sniff it, hold it up to light, even run my finger across the surface, looking for the dreaded tofu slime...but I'm never quite sure it's still edible.
Apparently, the fresh-tofu-from-a-barrel variety is the most worthy of my fear: a survey of corner produce markets several years ago found that tofu in water "is a breeding ground for significant harmful bacteria, and if it is not cooked thoroughly, it is likely to lead to gastrointestinal illness," says The New York Times.
Fresh tofu carries the most risk in recipes that do not involve cooking. According to New Good Food by Margaret M. Wittenberg, using fresh tofu--or any tofu--in dips and other recipes that don't require cooking means the tofu should be briefly boiled first. Raw tofu can be kept up to six days in the refrigerator as long as its water is changed regularly. Whether using fresh or packaged tofu, it turns out that the sniff/slime test is a good indicator of freshness: "a sour odor or slimy texture upon opening" tend to indicate a spoiled product.
Dating the container would probably prevent a lot of uncertainty over tofu in my kitchen. Soy milk doesn't tend to stay around very long in my fridge, but apparently the sniff test (or an unappealingly chunky texture) tend to be good indicators of spoilage with that, too.