Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Improper Poll: Way Past Prime Numbers

My daughter is a renowned expert on expiration dates. So when she isn’t here, I am defenseless against those little stamped numbers which are often hard for me to read even if I can distinguish them from mysterious product codes. Does 022012 mean February 20th of 2012 or just February in general? Usually I only remember to check during canned food drives, because I wouldn’t want to give someone else expired food.

Here is a confession: The other day I knowingly drank expired coffee. It was a powdered instant mix, and really, how much could powder degrade? Still, I was worried enough that I warned my daughter ahead of time in case that special, relaxing “me” time from the commercial became non-relaxing rush-me-to-the-hospital-time and she needed to know what to tell the paramedics. It smelled and tasted fine, though. And I lived. Oh, and the expiration date was a year ago.

I was going to have a contest to see who could locate the Most Expired Food Item in their pantry, but I was afraid no one would want to participate.

Or that I would lose.

You’ll be pleased to know I’m not going to tell you what’s in the back of my refrigerator. In fact, I am not even going to look! Instead, I’ll ask this: do you have expired food, or am I the only one?


  1. No, I belong to that club, too.

    I have a friend who helps with dog rescue stuff, and when we put together baskets of doggie treats for a bazaar or a trivia night, she is obsessed with looking at the expiration dates of the chew sticks, etc. If there is no date,she will even call the manufacturer and give them the lot number. We remind her, "Dogs eat poop," but still, she is insistent.

  2. HA, I would probably win. Our family would make fun of my mother-in-law who was the real queen of expired goods... even things without dates because the first time I went over there for Easter, she had Peeps sitting out. I love Peeps, but only if they are stale. Well these things could have broken a tooth, however, I LOVED them. Then I was let in on the little secret... but I lived. You know, way back they didn't have expiration dates on things and so I think it's just a gimmick so you buy new stuff. Sioux's remarks crack me about the lady calling to see if chew sticks are expired - what???

  3. Yes, we have expired goods. I think mostly the taste expires more than anything more sinister. I am careful with fresh produce, though;-)

  4. My husband raised eight children (before he knew me) and even though our household consists of two people and one dog, he still buys in bulk. Inevitably, the things in the back of the cupboard, on the shelves above my head, are going to "expire" but so far we're both alive. Of course, I have no idea what's up there, or what's in the bottom of the coffin-shaped deepfreeze.
    I think a contest would be fun, Tammy. It would be especially fun if we had the oldest food. Maybe my husband would take note.
    And maybe he wouldn't.

  5. See: http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Is-It-Safe-to-Eat-Expired-Food-102172869.html

    Actually, most expiration dates are just "best if used by" types of dates and all they mean is that if you want it to taste at its best you'd best eat it by then.

    Refrigerated and/or frozen items are different, though most of us already know that.

    The two things that surprised me were: (1) that if it's frozen it's basically safe to eat forever as long as you don't thaw and refreeze - although it might taste like crap and (2) of more concern, condiments don't last nearly as long as I thought. When I grew up the theory was basically that if it's peanut butter, catsup, pickles, mustard, etc. that you just don't worry about it because it kills any microbes that dare set foot in them. Not true. After I read a couple of articles about it I cleaned all of the condiments out of my refrigerator - they were ALL too old.

    In terms of those date codes you mentioned, having worked in a grocery store in college (ah, what fond memories) I can tell you that there is no common system employed. All you can usually count on is the bigger the number the longer it'll be good. Many of them, though, use a date that's a combination of the year and the day within the year (that is, Jan 31, 2012 would be 12031.

    Stores are supposed to clean the old stuff off their shelves - but don't count on it. I used to frequent (out of necessity - it was the only store around) a store in the Ozarks that seemed to specialize in out of date merchandise - and I saw some items there with clear date codes and people buying them that were 10 years out of date. Hmmmm.

    - - This public service announcement brought to you by The Twilight Zone.

  6. On a related, but somewhat off topic - as you probably know, Columbia (and Jaun Valdez) is one of the top coffee suppliers in the world. Interestingly enough they're also one of the top suppliers of another cash crop - cocaine. From what I've read in the past couple of years the coffee farmers have started to plant their cocaine crops intermixed with their coffee crops. So it's possible that buzz you get in the morning from your coffee may not be entirely caffeine.

    Is this why Columbian coffee is so prized? I dunno. You tell me. After all the Coca Cola success story began this way as well - but that's another story.

  7. (Val here. I left a comment but it didn't show up, so maybe I'm in 5PAM again.)

    My mother served me some expired Ranch Dressing one Thanksgiving. When I asked for Ranch, she went to her pantry to get it. I shook it well, but what poured out on my salad had the consistency of water. I checked the expiration date (because I'm a genius like that), and it was FOUR YEARS past the use-by date.

  8. My husband thinks if it's cheaper by the doazen, we should buy twelve. That thinking lends itself to some really old salad dressings and canned veggies.
    Of course we have expired goods at our house.

  9. *sigh* I cleaned out my spice cabinet two weeks ago and found stuff dating back to 2003. We have a pantry in the basement that has come to mean "foodstuffs we will keep until they glow green in the dark." I hate throwing food away. There's something fundamentally wrong with it when so many around the world are starving. Of course, there's probably something fundamentally wrong with keeping food eight years past the exp. date, too. *sigh*

  10. Tammy, I left a comment here, but it hasn't shown up. I DID clean out my fridge yesterday and found one item with a date of 2004!

  11. Around the holidays my hubby and I cleaned out our pantry and found lots of expired items, which we trashed.

  12. My refrigerator is the worst. Somehow I must feel that if it's cold, it lasts forever.

    Critter Alley


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