A reader named Alice emailed, saying her grandchildren seem to think they are the “Food Expiration Date Police.” They go through her fridge and try to throw away expired food.
I emailed Alice back saying we must be related. We have food police in our family as well.
A granddaughter will forage in the fridge, pull something out and say, “Grandma, did you know this cheese expired?”
“I don’t see anything green growing on it, do you?” I ask.
“No,” she says.
“Then it didn’t expire; it just joined the ‘aged cheese’ category.”
Now, if the roles were reversed and I were to say, “The ice cream has expired,” they’d all grab spoons and clamor to test it for themselves.
With the wide variety of expiration dates, “best by,” “sell by” and “use by” cautions, it is hard to know who and what to believe.
Food experts contradict other food experts and manufacturers waffle on whether the cautions mean it is about to go bad, it has gone bad or you’re going to be sorry you opened it. It gives new dimension to “food fight.”
Some of the grandkids hail from the “Fast Pitch” school, while we are of the “Wait and See” school. There’s no real school; my expertise (or lack thereof) comes from regular consumption, a loathing of wasting food and an innate fear of anything made with mayonnaise sitting in the sun on a picnic table.
I adhere to the dates on fish, chicken and pork, but am skeptical of the expiration dates on canned goods. How does anyone know the exact date something vacuum sealed goes bad?
Expiration dates on chips and crackers are dubious. After all, the main ingredient is usually salt.
I’ve yet to meet a mustard or vinegar that went bad. Is it chemically possible?
Then there are the foods you desperately want to go bad, but don’t. I’ve been waiting two weeks for a nasty-tasting salsa to spoil so I can justify pitching it. The salsa hasn’t expired, but it has surely worn out its welcome.
Store-bought pasta sauce is easy to diagnose; it crosses the finish line growing a fuzzy mold. Ditto for sour cream, ricotta and cream cheese.
The shelf life for yeast seems suspiciously short, but when you make a bread that has to rise three times, it’s too much work to take a chance.
The husband has a wide latitude when it comes to questionable foods.
He will pour half and half in his coffee, announce it appears curdled, say we need more, and then drink the coffee. The man is our canary in the mine.
The “use by” and “best by” dates don’t mean the product has literally expired and is inedible, but most often indicate when the food is at its peak freshness.
My better half and I are past our peak freshness.
We hope nobody throws us out.
Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Send comments to [email protected]