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Brr! It’s getting cold outside, and the packaged soups and other ready-to-eat meals at the market are looking mighty good for those chilly school nights when time to cook is in short supply. Here’s what families need to know about choosing safe, healthy packaged foods.

Shelf life

Steer clear of weird ingredients—and figure out whether those old items are still good.

Artificial preservatives

Found in a wide range of packaged foods—from bread to soup to hot dogs and everything in between—artificial preservatives extend a food’s shelf life. Some, like butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and propyl gallate, keep fats from going rancid and may be linked to cancer in animals. Others, such as sulfites and sodium benzoate, pose risks for people with asthma or allergy sensitivities. Truly natural foods won’t contain artificial preservatives. But since the term “natural” isn’t regulated the way “organic” is, some foods that call themselves natural could still contain the additives in question. Your best bet: Read the ingredient list. Find something you’re unsure of? Check the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocate organization additive database at

Best-by dates

Unlike their perishable counterparts, shelf-stable products like canned soup or boxed crackers aren’t required by the USDA to have best-by or sell-by dates (though some do anyway). A good rule of thumb: Use high-acid canned foods like tomatoes or pineapple within 12 to 18 months, and low-acid canned foods like tuna or vegetables within 2 to 5 years. For other packaged foods, like cereal, your own best judgment is the way to go. If the item has an off odor, flavor, or appearance, toss it.


Choosing safer cans, plus a new alternative.


The vast majority of metal food and beverage cans contain bisphenol A (BPA) in their lining, which research indicates is a developmental toxin that can be harmful to children, as well as to aquatic life. Whenever possible, choose canned goods from brands whose cans are BPA-free (such as Eden Foods or Muir Glen) or opt for packaged goods that aren’t canned (see below).


You may be familiar with the box-shaped containers—made from paper, aluminum, and BPA-free plastic—from buying unrefrigerated soymilk or rice milk, but TetraPak packaging is also used for natural soups, like those from Pacific Natural Foods. The BPA-free boxes aren’t just healthier for families, they’re also better for the environment, since their lightweight and rectangle shape makes them easier to transport.

Reprinted from KIWI Magazine

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