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Danger in the cupboard! The fridge!

What hazards are lurking in your kitchen? Food expert Phil Lempert tells you what to keep... and what to throw away
/ Source: NBC News

What danger lurks in your kitchen? Is it the bulging cans in your cabinets? Or that slimy substance in the bottle on the shelf in the fridge? Are things so cluttered that you have no idea what’s there? “Today” Food Editor Phil Lempert says now is the perfect time of year to get our kitchens in shape. He has advice on what you must have... and what you’ve gotta throw away.

AMERICANS ARE TOO tired to cook or clean, according to the latest A.C. Nielsen Consumer PreView survey. The survey reports that half of all heads of household are too tired to put much time or effort into evening meal preparation, and nearly two-thirds (63%) are constantly looking for faster ways to do household chores.

Let’s start with the clutter in your cupboards — some of which may be hazardous to your health. Most shelves are jammed with boxes, cans and jars — many that we can’t even remember when we bought. Step one is going through what’s in your cabinets and checking expiration dates and inspecting packages carefully.


Canned foods will last up to two years from their date of manufacture — not the date you purchased them. Many cans still carry a manufacturing code (instead of a “use by” date). While there is no standard, most canned goods follow this system:

For example, let’s assume the code reads as E219W1. What does that mean?

E = The month the food was manufactured. Since the manufacturing year typically starts in June with “A” for June, in this case “E” stands for “October.”

2 = The last number of the year in which it was manufactured — 2002

19 = The day of the month the can was manufactured

W = The plant name or location

1 = The shift on which the product was manufactured — in this case, the first shift of the day.

If you don’t want to take the trouble to decipher all of this, just call the 800# on the package and the customer service representative will be happy to tell you when it was made.

Never use canned foods that are rusty, bent, dented or bulging — that’s a sure sign that bacteria are growing inside.

Cooking oils should always be stored in a cool, dry place. Unopened oil lasts about six months, but once the bottle is opened, up to three months.

Salad dressings will last unopened up to a year but after opening should be kept in the fridge for no more than three months.

Put paper boxes of grains — for example, crackers, pasta, cereals, and rice — in airtight containers or large zip-lock type bags. Not only will the products stay fresher but the bag will also prevent insects from finding their way into your favorite pasta. The starch that is used to hold together corrugated boxes can be a breeding ground for insects both in warehouses and in supermarkets. And when these bugs get hungry, they can find their way into packages that you bring home. Pastas will last about a year unopened or stored in an airtight container. But egg noodles will only last about one-to-two months after they’re opened. Rice will last about a year, but be sure to keep moisture out.

Herbs and spices can be breeding grounds for bugs, so handle and store these properly. Whole spices last about two years, ground spices between 6-to-12 months. Always store spices in glass jars — spices in plastic jars or plastic bags don’t last as long, because the plastic itself allows air to get in. Never buy spices in wooden bins — they are a haven for insects.


The key is to be able to see what’s inside the cabinet. Create “steps” in your cabinets. Take 2x4s or something similar-sized and cut them to fit inside your cabinets. Put three layers in the back, two in the middle and one in front. You’ve done exactly what movie theaters do to stagger their seating so we all can see.

Use a permanent marker to mark the cans and boxes with the date you purchase them in large letters on the side of the can that you can easily see.

Under-sink storage is a never-never land and can be full of harmful chemicals in the wrong or young hands. Be sure to put toxic cleaners in secure locations and clean the area often. Many times we will use a container near water and replace it under the sink without wiping it dry. This area of the kitchen is conducive to mold, so be sure it’s kept as dry and aired out as possible. Be sure to keep trash bins clean and odor free. Where there are odors there are pets, flies and other insects. There is a new odor “eliminator” on the market — Petrotech — that actually encapsulates the

odor source, and accelerates nature’s biodegradation of the odor — metaphorically, it “eats” the odor.


Again, be sure to check expiration dates carefully and don’t assume that just because your refrigerator seems cool that the products will last beyond the expiration date. What we don’t think about are the many “un-cool” occasions that our fresh and frozen foods experience from manufacture to our home. Trucks that may not be at the correct temperature, foods sitting on loading docks waiting to be unpacked and even the time that it sits in our own shopping carts and the time on the way home can all effect the perishability of our foods.

Proper air circulation is critical for proper refrigeration and freezing. Look carefully to see where the air vents are and be sure to leave them exposed. Leave spaces between products — don’t jam them together — to allow the air to circulate.

The most important refrigerator and freezer accessory is a thermometer. Refrigerator temperature should be between 38 and 40 degrees and freezers at zero.

The doors on your refrigerator and freezer are the most convenient, but also the warmest. Use these shelves for those products that are the least perishable — salad dressings, soda, condiments, etc.

Crispers are designed for fruits and vegetables and usually have different settings for each. Crispers that are too cold may spoil your produce. Be sure to put a clean absorbent paper towel on the bottom of the drawer. Not only will it make cleanup easier — but it will also absorb excess moisture and keep your produce fresher longer.

Circle or write expiration dates in big letters that are easy to read. Use zip-lock type bags to store opened foods. Never put uncovered foods in your refrigerator. Remember that you cannot see, taste or smell bacteria until it’s too late and can cause serious food illnesses.

Milk should always be put on a shelf and never on the door.

Eggs should be stored in the container they came in. Never use the plastic egg container that comes with some refrigerators. Eggs need to breathe and the plastic container keeps them from doing so and will cause them to spoil faster. Fresh eggs will last up to three weeks if stored properly.

Condiments kept in the fridge will last up to a year, except mayonnaise and that should be kept only for two months. The most dangerous part of condiments is cross contamination — be sure to always use a clean utensil that has not touched other foods before putting the knife or fork into the jar.

Coffee unopened should be stored in the freezer — once opened, move it to the refrigerator (otherwise moisture will get into the beans and hurt the flavor). Whole beans will last only 1 to 3 weeks, so buy a reasonable quantity that you will use before the flavor is lost.

FREEZERS Freezers are known for their mysteries. Go ahead, open yours up and count how many unidentified foil packages you have. Be sure to wrap foods in foil and then put them in a freezer zip-lock type of bag. And again identify what’s inside and the date it was added to the freezer.

Just because it’s in the freezer does not mean it will last forever. Here are the frozen storage guidelines for products that are properly packaged in airtight containers:

Frozen dinners and entrees — 3-4 months

Leftover soups and stews — 2 months

Ground beef or turkey — 3 months

Lunchmeats, unopened — 1 month

Bacon, unopened — 1 month

Sausages — 1-2 months

Ham, fully cooked — 1-2 months

Steaks — 6-12 months

Pork chops — 4-6 months

Roasts — 6-12 months

Leftover cooked meats — 2-3 months

Fish filets — 4-5 months

Whole fish — 5-6 months

Shellfish — 4-6 months

Whole chicken or turkey — 1 year

Chicken or turkey pieces — 9 months

Cooked poultry — 4 months


We’ve told you what to take out of your cabinets and refrigerator and freezer. But now, something to keep in them, for that quick dinner that is easy to prepare and tasty on those days where you are too tired, too cranky or just don’t want to deal:

Always keep fish filets (for example: sole, tilapia, flounder, or trout) in the freezer packed in separate portions.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Place a defrosted filet (always defrost in a covered dish in your refrigerator) and place the fish on a sheet of aluminum foil (large enough to wrap around the filet and fold over 2 inches on the top) that has been lightly coated with olive oil.

Fold the sides of the aluminum to form a “U” shape. Mix two tablespoons of olive oil, one teaspoon of freshly grated ginger and 1/4 cup of a diced red onion. Pour the mixture on top of the fish, if you want to add a tropical flavor, add sliced bananas around the sides of the filet. Close the “U” by folding in the middle. Fold up the sides. Be sure that the aluminum foil is completely sealed on all 4 sides. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 12 minutes (until the fish is flaky).

What I love about this recipe is that you don’t have to do a lot of preparation, mess with a lot of pots and pans, and it comes out perfect every time!