Never Deal With Expired Spices Again by Using These Mini Packs Instead

Occo, Kickstarter
Occo, Kickstarter

Adding seasoning to a dish should be a simple part of the cooking process, but too often, rummaging for measuring spoons and checking the expiration dates on spice jars (which you're hopefully doing!) just leads to frustration. Occo offers a better way by replacing oversized bottles with smartly designed, card-sized packages.

The new product, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, stores spices in packs of 12 individual ¼-teaspoon chambers, adding up to 1 tablespoon of the ingredient per card. Instead of dirtying extra utensils, home cooks can measure out seasonings by peeling open however many capsules the recipe calls for and adding the spice directly to the dish.

An Occo spice card contains much less of an ingredient than the spice jars sold at supermarkets, and that's by design. Even though some people use the same spice containers for years, dried herbs and spices do eventually go bad after prolonged exposure to light, heat, oxygen, and moisture. After enough time passes, the product can lose flavor, and in worst cases, cause food-borne illnesses.

If you want to get the most out of your spices, you should replace them every three to six months. Of course, this is easier said than done if you only use the large jar of nutmeg in your pantry 1 teaspoon at a time every few weeks or so. The spice cards from Occo are designed to be used up before whatever's inside them goes bad. (In case you're concerned with the extra waste produced by replacing one big jar with several tiny packages, each Occo card is made from aluminum, which is one of the easiest materials to recycle.)

Occo sells 12 basic herbs and spices, including oregano, paprika, cinnamon, and chili powder. You can pre-order a collection of three packs for a pledge of $15 on Kickstarter, with shipping estimated for June of this year.

Americans Waste Tons of Perfectly Good Food Because They Don't Understand Expiration Dates

iStock.com/FangXiaNuo
iStock.com/FangXiaNuo

Everyone approaches safe food handling a little differently. Some people rely on the smell test; others are fastidious about washing their hands.

But according to a new survey, consumers waste food—a lot of food—because they don't understand the meaning of the expiration dates on the food labels.

The online survey, led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and published in the journal Waste Management, polled 1029 respondents about their knowledge of food labels that use terms like “best if used by,” “sell by,” or “use by.” Roughly 84 percent said they opted to discard food on or near the so-called expiration dates at least occasionally, while 37 percent said they did it on a regular basis. Just over a third of those polled believed such food labels—often found on packaged dry food as well as bread and canned goods—were federally regulated, which they aren’t.

The survey indicates some confusion over food labeling. Typically, “best by” and “sell by” labels are meant to indicate when a food might begin to experience diminished freshness or quality, not an expiration date by which it could spoil or become a potential source of food-borne illness. By discarding these foods prematurely, researchers say, consumers are contributing to a food waste problem. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that up to 31 percent of consumable food is wasted at both the retail and consumer levels.

Shoppers aren’t necessarily to blame. The labels often have no explicit explanation on packaging, leaving phrases like “best if used by” open to interpretation. Even individual states have different standards for items like milk, with some using a “sell by” date (with the milk typically good for five days after) and others sticking to a “use by” date.

Other pantry foods may have expiration dates but could conceivably last for years, like sugar, salt, and honey.

Newer food industry standards may clear up some of this confusion, with “use by” designated strictly for items where safety is a concern and other terms (including "best if used by") meant to denote quality. Taking the "use by" suggestion is especially important with deli meats and cheeses that can grow bacteria like Listeria in refrigerated environments. Until there’s a universally recognized standard, however, consumers are likely to remain uncertain about what these terms mean.

So what’s the best approach to interpreting food labels? For dry or non-perishable goods, dates are often a marker of quality, and you’re not likely to do yourself any harm by keeping the food around longer. Perishable goods should be discarded when their “use by” dates have arrived. But no matter what the package says, if doesn’t smell or look quite right, label it trash and go shopping.

[h/t ScienceDaily]

An Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Is Coming to New Jersey

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Now, Food & Wine reports that Bourdain's home state will honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail would draw from the New Jersey episode from season five of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, but it's not clear when it will be officially established. Until then, you can take your own Bourdain-inspired tour by visiting one of the planned trail stops below.

1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
2. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
3. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
4. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
5. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
6. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
7. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
8. Donkey's Place // Camden
9. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

[h/t Food & Wine]

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