Expiration Date’s A Debate

After extensive study, which includes cleaning out refrigerators for a good half century, I’ve concluded the world breaks down between those who faithfully discard food by expiration date and those who do not.

The discarders will not tolerate even a pickle that has exceeded its advertised lifetime.

The non-discarders believe vinegar is a lifetime preserver and secretly scrape off green fuzz if it has not grown too deep. In extreme cases, they sample a smidgen of the suspect food and, if they’re still healthy in six hours, serve it to others.

The chief non-discarder in our family was my late mother, who grew up in the Depression and never saw an expiration date she agreed with.

“It’s a racket,” she used to say. “They (being merchants and overly-picky family members) just want you to go out and buy something new all the time. Mustard of any age is still good.”

With the exception of the jar whose bottom fell out from old age, she was probably right.

Of course, the demise of the mustard jar had to occur when a particularly picky family discarder started to swath the inside with a spatula.

“What did I tell you?” he asked – and still asks, recounting the incident to this day.

The mustard jar tale is quickly followed by his sister’s recollection of the microwave popcorn that, according to my mother, was “perfectly good” despite its alleged death by expiration nine years earlier.

Following mostly in my mother’s non-discarder footsteps, I’m plagued still by her over-zealous campaign to keep foods alive and on respirators so they not “go to waste.”
Though she was an honest woman, she has driven me to lie.

“How long have you had that?” my daughter wants to know about the week-old spaghetti sauce.

“Opened it last night,” I say. Same with the celery, which I snatch away to clip off the brown ends. And hope she doesn’t check the milk that reportedly died the evening before.
Maybe it’s the economy or simply info overload on the web, but I don’t seem to be the only one teetering between the guilt of discarding good food and the worry of poisoning family and friends.

A website called StillTasty.com attempts to list every possible food and its life expectancy. “Attempts” is the operative word here.

Looking for guidance on mom’s popcorn, I’m still scratching my head. Still Tasty says the expiration date (usually a year out) is “for best quality only and that after that, while the popcorn’s “texture, color or flavor may change…in most cases it will still be safe to consume if it has been stored properly.”

So let’s see. Mom moved the popcorn from Florida. It rode in the moving van, which got how hot? Well, obviously not hot enough to pop the corn, but then on the other hand…. And as for the mustard, safe in most cases even after a year if it’s been opened and continuously refrigerated. No warning that after nine years the bottom might fall out.

Which, if she were here, mom would be quick to point out.

Copyright 2011 Pat Snyder

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One Response to “Expiration Date’s A Debate”

  1. Sally Wieder Says:

    This column really had me laughing as I thought about the milk we faithfully sniffed each day after the May 21st expiration date, before pouring it on the cereal. Finally finished it yesterday – with no casualties. And then there’s the leftover spaghetti sauce that’s been in the refrigerator about four months. And the stick of butter sitting in the butter compartment about two months. How can you tell what the expiration date is on an opened stick of butter? The rule of thumb of an old friend was, “Just leave it in the refrigerator. Once the green mold appears, throw it out.” Thanks for a good laugh.

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