March 3, 2010
My fiance is trying to kill me with expired salad dressing...
Yesterday I tossed out a container of what used to be cottage cheese. It looked like an alien invasion was happening in there. And it was well past the expiry date. If it was just a couple of days past its expiry date and looked and smelled fine, I would have tossed it anyway. Is that wrong?
Shortly after K and I started dating two summers ago, we had a BBQ at his house. In addition to the burgers and usual stuff, we had salad. In a show of great hosting especially to someone you are newly dating, he pulled out like eight salad dressings.
As he was preparing the food, I was hoping my dog wouldn't embarrass me by knocking something over as he cavorted around like he had a firecracker up his ass, and so to distract myself I casually looked through the labels of the foodstuff on the table, specifically the salad dressing. Yes, some of this looks interesting, some unusual flavours here, and then holy crap, this one is two years old, and so is that one, and another one. This stuff is months to years beyond their printed expiry dates - is he effing try to kill me?
Beyond all this stuff, there was more salad dressing in the house. A lot more. K is a planner and if there is ever a nuclear holocaust, his house is where you want to hide out - there is enough frozen food, salad dressing, canned salmon, and dry cereal to take you though the lengthy rebirth of the human race. My house has trace amounts of apples, diet Coke, and frozen organic edamame.
A recent article on http://www.slate.com/ challenges the food industry on expiry dates, saying that they pretty much don't mean anything. They are valid in terms of fresh food's optimal date of freshness for taste and healthful impact, not in terms of food safety. Packaged food can last months beyond its expiry date, canned food years beyond. Food deteriorates from the moment it is picked, killed, created or processed, and then its validity depends on how is packaged and cared for: is it in too hot or too cold storage? Is it properly wrapped and sealed? If it is refrigerated, how cold is that exact corner of the fridge?
Except for baby food, 'sell by' or expiry dates are not regulated. How the food is cared for - packaging, cleanliness, and temperature - determines how long it will be good.
The bottom line? Food goes bad. The food industry wants you to toss out that box of Ritz crackers from 1997 and buy new ones. And yes, some food is good well beyond its expiry date. I think this is probably a case by case thing. Fresh stuff looks and smells bad when it is bad. Microwave popcorn and Oreo cookies will outlast your grandchildren. And that damn salad dressing hasn't killed me. Yet.