The Prairie Spy

Alan “Lindy” Linda

There was a time when, after living here on my own for some time,  The Young Girls (who are now not “Old” but kind of “Less Young.”) gathered here at the house. They seemed totally united in their purpose. Their target? Date codes on food.

It rapidly became a contest to see which of Them could find the food with the oldest “use by” date on it. The year was about 2007 or 2008, near as I can recollect. They dug. They scrutinized. They laughed. I went to bed. They giggled down there past midnight. They had a good time. When your children are enjoying themselves, it’s kind of fun. 

But they threw out a lot of good stuff, just because of a number on it. (In my opinion it was still good; not in the manufacturer’s.)

The winner of oldest date code (ODC) was some dill relish in the refrigerator that had expired around 1993. I had to let it go. I guess it was time, but I hated to see it leave.  Ninety-three was a good year, you know? For dill relish. For everyone. Everyone—me mostly—was much younger in ninety-three. Who doesn’t want to be younger? Alas, poor relish. I knew you well.

In fact, Americans throw away 40 percent of the food they buy, believing that expiration dates, “sell by,” “best before,” “use by,” or “packed on” dates if ignored will poison them, their children, their pet, or their car. (Yes, even car waxes have gotten into the act, like wax can grow old or something.)

A report just released by Harvard’s Natural Resources Defense Council (which, with a name like that, is probably itself peopled with old professor’s well past their “use by” expiration date) says that “The date labeling system is not a system at all.” The report went on. I’ll bet it went on and on and ON, knowing Harvard.

However, according to them, these various expiration dates are used more for retailers for inventory control. A University of Minnesota food science professor gets in on the research and states that while some of these labels may indicate freshness, none of them has anything to do with edibility or safety.

Suddenly, I feel much better about some car wax that is at least twenty years old. Not better enough to eat it, you understand. Not even better enough to go out and wax on, wax off the jalopy. Nope. The urge to wax a car expired in me even further back than the expiration notice on the can.

All The Young Girls are still certain all these years later that I am liable to ptomaine myself into some total care facility before my natural “used up by” date. You have to understand that at this point, as I look at a calendar and calculate my age, I am beginning to wonder about my own “best if used by” date. Hence, I have a lot of sympathy for a jar of jelly that my mother gave me at least forty years ago.

Back when they ganged up on me and threw my food away, I never told them that  I found the unopened jar of out-of-date salsa in the trash the next morning. (I went to bed before they did.) I liberated it from the garbage can and leisurely took the next two years to use it up.

Before They come and visit, I try and hide stuff that they are trying to protect me from. However, I always leave one container of stuff that I don’t like so they can feel useful.

Trying to distract them. Next thing you know, they’ll all be looking at me.