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Jan 21, 2009 12:28 PM

About Expiration Dates

I thought the last point was the most important one, trust your nose.

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  1. Very true, this last sentence: "And keep in mind the fact that if you’re not sure if you’ve ever smelled rotten milk, you haven’t."

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    1. This ought to be tacked up at the top of one of the boards to forestall the endless and repetitive "is this good?" threads!

      8 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        I had those threads in mind when I decided to post a link to the article. It's an area that makes me crazy, so much food going to waste due to plain ignorance, so I hope the information is put to good use. There are so many other reasons that food gets junked, but that kind of waste bothers me the most especially in these times when 10% of Americans are on food stamps. Note that the author's area of interest is indeed food waste, per the byline.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          But you know what, Melanie? The people that have it ingrained in them to throw things out by the Sell-By date are going to continue to do so. When I see people talking about throwing it out by the sell-by date (or even throwing away things by the Use By date!) it drives me nuts as well. But you're not going to break their lifelong habit - or only be able to do so with a rare few. They don't think of the potential waste - they think they don't want to get sick, and if the manufacturer is telling the there's a drop-dead date on usage, by God, they're going to believe it!

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Great article. Thanks for posting it.
            The shame is that the mainstream media is doing NOTHING about getting this type of information out to the general pubic.
            It would be so useful if consumer reporters started spreading the word that these "sell by," "use by," and "whatever by" dates have little relation to reality and that consumers should learn to use common sense.
            Waste is rampant in our society and we never could afford it and now we really can't.

            Maybe the problem isn't so much "ignorance" as an overabundance of caution because people have been trained to be fearful. The media promotes stories that sensationalize statistically minor incidents that makes people more likely to throw out perfectly useful items. If they used their common sense, they wouldn't do this.
            Some education from the media would be helpful, but it's not as good a story on the evening news.

            1. re: MakingSense

              We can each do what we can to get the word out. I forwarded the link to a public health nutritionist, and from there it has spread to various listserv groups for California's Central Coast (from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara) related to hunger coalitions, food security, WIC, health education, and maybe find its way to people who need to know.

              "I always felt that my depression-era mom's habit of keeping food ages past the exp date was going to kill us all, but it didn't. I'm passing this on - very helpful. Thanks . . ."

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                It's amazing how many things people believe even though they have first-hand evidence to the contrary! In further adventures in "expired" food, I opened up a boxed liquer cake that I bought for the holidays three years ago. It said "best by 5-5-2006." I knew it wouldn't make me sick, but I figured it might be stale, but actually it was in pretty good shape: some of the sugar in had leached out and crystallized on the outside, but that actually made for a nice texture. Certainly it didn't need to be thrown out!

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Amen, sister! I've done the same (albeit not with a cake, because I don't have an old booze cake hanging around). But if I'm cooking for myself and my milk/canned good/cheese is past "the date", I'll use it anyway, assuming that it doesn't smell bad or the can isn't bulging.

                  MakingSense also pointed out what I think is the crux of the issue:
                  "Maybe the problem isn't so much "ignorance" as an overabundance of caution"--not just in the realm of food, but in other things as well. Perhaps this is an artifact of a litigious society or maybe not, but we (society in general, not CHers in particular) ARE overly cautious. And overly distrustful. Every carton of milk is a source of gastric distresss, every stranger who waves at a child is an abducter, every mistake is a conspiracy of some sort. We seem to have lost the ability to make discerning choices wrt our safety--i.e. we don't trust our noses to make safe food choices, etc.

                  1. re: nofunlatte

                    I couldn't agree more about the abundance of caution syndrome. There's got to be middle ground between the "everything happens for a reason" and the "everything is random" points of view, neither of which promotes commonsense caution. Not all hazards are recognizable or preventable, but most of them are, if you just think a little bit about how the world around you works.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Considering how litigious things are, I think if a food product really did become dangerous or had the potential to cause illness after a certain date, the producer wouldn't be calling the date on it 'best before' or 'sell by'. It would be an 'absolutely do not use after' date, or some such.

        2. This whole thread makes me laugh....i am constantly saving food from the trash & trying to explain to my spouse that half the food we refrigerate does not even need to be refrigerated and....the food was created as a way to preserve it....such as bacon! They used to hang it in a smokehouse! Potatoes were stored in basements all winter. Vinegar means bad wine. Many cheeses have mold rinds so don't throw out the whole chunk of cheese just shave it off. Now on the other hand my mother takes it too far & we often joke that she is trying to poison us all...but also making our systems stronger.

          1. Thanks for posting this... I've been following Jonathan Bloom's blog since last summer, it's very interesting and he usually strikes a good balance between loving food and hating food waste. If you want more it at

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            1. re: mpjmph

              Pls feel free to use this Food Media and News board to provide a clipping service for interesting things you find on the topic.

              P.S. You have the same initials and credential as a childhood friend from Salinas, are you he?

            2. Here's an NPR piece in a similar vein: with the author of this article on

              1 Reply
              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                The author from brings up the fact that most of the expiry dates are not regulated and are decided by the manufacturer. That is one argument that I use against adhering to those dates. The very company that wants you to buy more of their product is putting a date on the product. Many people will throw out the product on that date and possibly buy more. Hmmm, I'm not usually a conspiracy nut, but doesn't it serve the producer to shave that date down in order to sell more?