Honey, Can You Sniff This? Food Safety in the Apocalypse

can dateBefore we go too far into any recipes, we need to talk about some basic food storage and safety facts. You may not think that it matters, but, believe me, it does. Just think about how scary it would be to try to fight or outrun zombies while doubled over from food poisoning!

Okay, so here’s the situation: You’re in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. That means no new deliveries to the grocery store. No fresh meat, no fresh veggies. No Pea Pod deliveries. No Amazon groceries delivered by UPS. And we are not even talking about whether or not you’ve got power! So unless you live on a totally self–sufficient farm, you are going to have to make do with what you have and what you can scrounge until you’re either rescued by the Army or you can grow your own food….

We’ll discuss our Apocalyptic Pantry lists of what you should keep on hand or pick up from your local ransacked convenience store later. Today, we are going to discuss how to tell if the food you are looking at eating is safe or not.  And the first step to knowing that is understanding how to tell when food was packed and knowing how long it keeps for. That where packaging and expiration codes come in.

It would be so much easier if every food used the same coding system. Unfortunately, they don’t. Some products use the date something was made, some have a sell by or use by date, some a best by date. Some even use a pack date system based on the Julian Calendar.

We’ll discuss in another post whether those dates make sense. The FDA requires water to have an expiration date, even though it doesn’t expire.

WebMD has a good article on codes and expiration dates.  About.com also has a chart. There are also a good number of pages on university web sites like this one from the University of Nebraska. These will tell you all about the differences between dates with terms like sell by, use by, expiration, best by  and so on.  And don’t forget, drugs and medicines have dates too!

In practice, there doesn’t seem to be a consistency to the use of these terms. A loaf of bread may have a sell by or a use by date, depending on the manufacturer.

Now, some of those facts aren’t going to apply to us. Things like put it in the refrigerator immediately when you get home. Or don’t open the refrigerator or freezer when the power goes out. Yeah, right!That doesn’t mean too much if the power never comes back on….

But even in a zombie apocalypse, there are still some basic rules we can apply:

  • Avoid jars, canned goods and bottles with severe dents, bulges and compromised seals. There is no cure for botulism in a zombie apocalypse.
  • Storage conditions count! Extreme heat and extreme cold shorten the shelf life (and compromise the taste!). So do light, moisture and air.
  • Avoid old items that have been opened (See this article about killer pancake mix –the stuff will literally kill you!)

And, most importantly, remember what George Carlin said: “There is no blue food.”