I’ve learned from experience that one of the first signs of crossing over into old age is a forced preoccupation with expiration dates. And I don’t mean yours or mine – I’m talking about the dates on what’s in the fridge or medicine cabinet! You know – sell buy, use by or best by?
The leap from family-size to single-serve has not been without its moments of angst and sadness but I think I’ve done so successfully. However, I find myself on a constant vigil when it comes to expiration dates, especially when family or friends come to visit. While some might sneak a quick peek at the expiration date on the salad dressing, my kids aren’t so subtle, especially my daughters. I get that “MOTHER! DID YOU KNOW…?” I have to admit that has created a little paranoia.
Expiration dates on food products is another one of those 70s things like pet rocks, platform shoes and disco. Growing up in the 50- 60s, I knew milk was bad by its smell, and to throw away those pinto beans in the swollen can.
A 2019 USA Today interview with the Food and Drug Administration attributed date label confusion to 20% of food waste in the home. While I’m not a big NPR fan, I’ll take what I can get when it comes to research, such as the 2017 interview explaining that the ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ dates really don’t mean what they say. And I quote, “Foods
And I quote, “Foods don’t ‘expire.’ Most foods are safe to eat even after that ‘sell by’ date has passed. They just may not taste as good, because they’re not as fresh anymore. Companies use the labels to protect the reputation of their products – they want consumers to see and consume their food in as fresh a state as possible. But those dates often have the perverse effect of convincing overcautious consumers to throw perfectly good food into the trash.”
And that is exactly what I have done!
I do, however, have my limits. Men seem less concerned than women about expiration dates on anything. For instance, this past weekend I fled solitary confinement to spend a few days with my gentleman friend and break the monotony of his isolation. Because of previous bariatric surgery, my food portions are small, and I approach food based on its nutritional value. (Except where chocolate is concerned!)
For instance, five Triscuits and 1-2 ounces of cheese, or peanut butter, with a small piece of fruit will suffice for a meal. But a trip to his pantry and fridge is like opening a food time capsule! His pepper jack cheese had expired in November, the Triscuits in February but his peanut butter expired five and a half years ago! And what was his response? “Well, it hasn’t been opened.”
What’s the purpose of this rambling piece? Men are on Mars and women on Venus? I don’t know except to suggest to those under the age of 60 to cut the old folks on a budget a little slack when visiting. Apply some good old-fashioned common sense and use your nose for something other than a ring holder!
Connie Clements is a freelance reporter and award-winning columnist. She writes feature news articles on a weekly basis and an opinion column as the mood strikes her.