Thursday, December 12, 2013

Is That Still Good?

I have just one question today for all the packagers of our food stuffs. A very simple question.

Why is the expiration date a secret?

I used to have a college roommate---who, if he read this, will know who he is---who was deathly afraid of consuming food or drink that was even one day past its expiration date.

If that package of Rice-a-Roni had a date of June 17, 1984, and if it was June 18, 1984, my roommate wouldn't eat it. Period.

Loaves of bread that had days of the week on their twist ties, rather than actual dates, would drive him nuts.

"WEDNESDAY? WHICH Wednesday?"

He wouldn't fall for the smell test. Even if that gallon of milk smelled perfectly fine, but it was one day past the expiration, it would get tossed down the drain.

Why?

"They put those dates for a reason," he would tell me. "Don't they?"

I suppose, but still...

Anyhow, back to my original question.

Have you tried to locate expiration dates of food items? It's like an Easter egg hunt, only with text. You may as well be doing a word search.

Some dates are plainly visible, and for those, I thank the companies who do it that way.

But many others are placed on strange places like the sides of jar lids or hidden among the coded symbols and serial numbers on the bottoms, sides, etc of packages.

Not everyone uses the same dating system, either.

I would like a straightforward date like this: EXP 7-13-13.

Plain, easy, ends all ambiguity.

But some dates are coded and hidden among other text and symbols and numerals. It's hard to tell where the expiration date begins and ends.

Why?

I would think that when a product has lost its flavor or its safety in terms of consuming it, is a pretty darned important factoid for the consumers to have.

Yet the expiration date is often very difficult to locate, and if you do find it, good luck actually reading it.

The situation arose yet again the other night, when my daughter asked about the expiration date of a jar of capers that we had in our fridge for quite some time.

"I don't know, let me check," I said, and I took hold of the small jar.

I rotated that jar in my hands several times. I squinted at the side of the lid. I turned it upside down. My eyes bore into the label, as if I was trying to use x-ray vision.

No date.

"It doesn't have a date," I said, and even I didn't believe what I was saying. Surely a jar of capers should have a date of expiration.

My daughter joined me. She couldn't find a date either.

Now, had my old college roommate been involved, he'd have insisted that the jar be thrown out. As bad as using something past its date was to him, the discovery of a date-less item would have sent him screaming into the streets.

Sans a date on the capers jar with which to work, we did the (usually) trusty though sometimes frightening thing of opening the jar and smelling the contents. The capers smelled fine.

Although, a few minutes later, a thought came to me that I kept to myself (until now).

How do you know what bad capers smell like?

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