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Is food OK to eat after fire damage and expiration dates?

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Posted: Friday, March 22, 2013 7:08 am

Dear Barbara: We recently had a fire in our kitchen, which is connected to an open pantry. The kitchen was quite a mess, but I have a question about the food in the pantry. Is it still OK to use? A lot of it is canned goods, and I would think that would be OK. There are some jars that seem OK, but I don’t know about boxed dry foods that have not been opened. — Eileen from Sacramento

Dear Eileen: According to the USDA Food Safety Division, the food in your pantry is not OK. They say to discard food that has been near a fire. The heat of the fire, smoke fumes, and chemicals used to fight the fire can damage food exposed to it. Food in cans or jars may appear to be okay, but the heat from a fire can activate food spoilage bacteria.

One of the most dangerous elements of a fire is sometimes not the fire itself, but toxic fumes released from burning materials. Food stored in refrigerators or freezers can also become contaminated by fumes. The refrigerator seal isn’t airtight, and fumes can get inside. Chemicals used to fight the fire contain toxic materials that cannot be washed off the food.

I’m sorry you will need to start over, but at least you will have the peace of mind that what you are feeding your family is safe.

Dear Barbara: When I bake an apple pie there seems to be too much juice that is created after I add the flour, sugar and cinnamon mixture to the sliced apples. I thought maybe I let it set too long before putting it in the pastry shell, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference. When I cut the finished pie, it seems too runny. What can I do to prevent this from happening? — Camille from Lodi

Dear Camille: The extra juice happens to most pie bakers. Try using a large spoon to put the apples in the pastry shell and don’t add the extra juices at the bottom of the bowl. There is still plenty of sugar that stays with the apples.

I have also tried adding a little more flour to the sugar mixture to help solidify the juices, but I could taste the flour, and I wasn’t fond of that.

I suggest you try it both ways, and then you will be able to decide which method tastes the best to you.

Dear Barbara: I was at a local market yesterday and made a small purchase. When I got it home, I noticed that it was already after the “best before” date. Isn’t that illegal to sell after the date? Could it make you sick? — Saundra from Lodi

Dear Saundra: I think you are confusing the “best before” date with an “expiration” date or a “use by” date. It is not illegal to sell a product after its “best before” date. That only means that it is at its peak quality before that date. The quality starts to go down after that date, but it wouldn’t make you ill.

However, if it is past the “expiration” or “use by,” it is illegal to sell and should be brought to the manager’s attention. Don’t buy the product if it is after that date!

Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at Please include your first name and city.



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