Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Use by October 2007

I thought I should purge some of the items here at my desk that I keep in my personal drawer for "emergencies".  You know, those foodstuffs you keep on hand just in case you get snowed in and can't leave the office (okay, so in 28+ years that has never happened - but what if it did??!!). 

Or what if you get an undeniable craving for a twinkie at 4:30 in the afternoon (although twinkies NEVER expire so they don't really count).  

How about that leftover throat lozenge from the flu of 2003?  Would using it make Madame Curie roll over in her grave?

I ran across something that looked like this ...

And I asked myself ... what does "best by" really mean?  What if I'm hungry enough that I don't care if it is the "best" noodle soup I've ever had and would settle for something less?  I mean, it's been vacuumed packed and NOTHING gets through a vacuum seal, correct?  So it should really still be okay.  Then I wonder if there is a study going on somewhere testing the benefits of expired products for their medicinal value.  I could be their poster child!

And have you ever "sniffed" a carton of milk, even though the expiration date is blatantly over a week old?  You just KNOW you're gonna get that spoiled milk high ... sort of like the smelling salts they used years ago to bring women that would swoon back to their senses.  Maybe you could still use it in place of sour cream in that banana bread recipe you were going to make.  I mean, isn't that what sour cream is made from ?  Soured milk?

So I did some research, and learned the true meanings of all of the terms used to denote expiration ... here's what I found.

The actual term "Expiration Date" refers to the last date a food should be eaten or used. Last means last -- proceed at your own risk.

Other, more commonly spotted terms are:

"Sell by" date. The labeling "sell by" tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires. This is basically a guide for the retailer, so the store knows when to pull the item. This is not mandatory, so reach in back and get the freshest. The issue is quality of the item (freshness, taste, and consistency) rather than whether it is on the verge of spoiling.
"Best if used by (or before)" date. This refers strictly to quality, not safety. This date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. Sour cream, for instance, is already sour, but can have a zippier, fresh taste when freshly sour (if that's not an oxymoron!)

"Born on" date. This is the date of manufacture and has been resurrected recently to date beer. Beer can go sub-par after three months. It is affected by sun. The light can reactivate microorganisms in the beer. That's why you have to be especially careful with beer in clear bottles, as opposed to brown or green.  But this is a MOOT point in our household, as I've never seen a 12-pack last more than one weekend!!

"Guaranteed fresh" date. This usually refers to bakery items. They will still be edible after the date, but will not be at peak freshness.

"Use by" date. This is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.

"Pack" date. You will find this one on canned or packaged goods, as a rule, but it's tricky. In fact, it may be in code. It can be month-day-year-MMDDYY. Or the manufacturer could revert to the Julian calendar. January would then be 001-0031 and December 334-365. It gets even weirder than that.

If you are not up on your Julian calendar and dating seems sort of a hodgepodge, how about memorizing some basic rules?

Milk. Usually fine until a week after the "Sell By" date.

Eggs. OK for 3-5 weeks after you bring them home (assuming you bought them before the "sell by" date). VanLandingham says double-grade A's will go down a grade in a week but still be perfectly edible.

Poultry and seafood. Cook or freeze this within a day or two.

Beef and pork. Cook or freeze within three to five days.

Canned goods. Highly acidic foods like tomato sauce can keep 18 months or more. Low-acid foods like canned green beans are probably risk-free for up to five years. "You do not want to put cans in a hot place like a crawl space or garage," Peggy VanLaanen, EdD, RD, a professor of food and nutrition at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, tells WebMD. She suggests keeping canned and dry food at 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in a dry, dark place. Humidity can be a factor in speeded-up deterioration. The FDA notes that taste, aroma, and appearance of food can change rapidly if the air conditioning fails in a home or warehouse. Obviously, cans bulging with bacteria growth should be discarded, no matter what the expiration date!



Anything that makes you gag is spoiled (except for leftovers from what you cooked for yourself last night).


When something starts pecking its way out of the shell, the egg is probably past its prime.


Milk is spoiled when it starts to look like yogurt. Yogurt is spoiled when it starts to look like cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is spoiled when it starts to look like regular cheese. Regular cheese is nothing but spoiled milk anyway and can't get any more spoiled than it is already. Cheddar cheese is spoiled when you think it is blue cheese but you realize you've never purchased that kind.


If it makes you violently ill after you eat it, the mayonnaise is spoiled.


Frozen foods that have become an integral part of the defrosting problem in your freezer compartment will probably be spoiled - (or wrecked anyway) by the time you pry them out with a kitchen knife.


This is NOT a marketing ploy to encourage you to throw away perfectly good food so that you'll spend more on groceries. Perhaps you'd benefit by having a calendar in your kitchen.


If opening the refrigerator door causes stray animals from a three-block radius to congregate outside your house, the meat is spoiled.


Sesame seeds and Poppy seeds are the only officially acceptable "spots" that should be seen on the surface of any loaf of bread. Fuzzy and hairy looking white or green growth areas are a good indication that your bread has turned into a pharmaceutical laboratory experiment.


Flour is spoiled when it wiggles.


It never spoils.


It is generally a good rule of thumb that cereal should be discarded when it is two years or longer beyond the expiration date.


Bibb lettuce is spoiled when you can't get it off the bottom of the vegetable crisper without Comet. Romaine lettuce is spoiled when it turns liquid.


Any canned goods that have become the size or shape of a softball should be disposed of. Carefully.


A carrot that you can tie a clove hitch in is not fresh.


Raisins should not be harder than your teeth.


Fresh potatoes do not have roots, branches, or dense, leafy undergrowth.


If you can take it out of its container and bounce it on the floor, it has gone bad.


Putting empty containers back into the refrigerator is an old trick, but it only works if you live with someone or have a maid.


You know it is well beyond prime when you're tempted to discard the Tupperware along with the food. Generally speaking, Tupperware containers should not burp when you open them.


Most food cannot be kept longer than the average life span of a hamster. Keep a hamster in or near your refrigerator to gauge this.


Cheryl said...

So funny and timely! I was just looking at an unopened jar of Miracle Whip at lunch time with a "use by" date from a year ago..... (It is in the garbage but I guess I technically could have used it. )

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the laugh!! A constant on going conversation in our house, because my son works in receiving of a local grocery store, lol!