Good question, isn’t it? Earlier this week I got into this discussion with a few friends and it was interesting hearing how different everyone’s interpretation of “expired” really is.
I, for one, was more than a little freaked out that some people don’t believe food expires – AT ALL! That’s just not right. I mean, milk, now … come on?! This is a dairy liquid that comes from a cow (which is warm when it comes out, I’ll grant you that), but I am still confused about the whole “homogenization” process and how the chilling afterward then creates a timeline whereby the milk becomes future cottage cheese. It just baffles me. But back to the subject at hand, which is expired milk and the answer is very clear, especially if you have ever poured some over your Lucky Charms in the morning, expecting a nice bowl of sugary goodness and been overwhelmed with sour pukish liquid instead! This is evidence enough for me – milk does indeed expire, my friends.
The next food subject we discussed was eggs. Again, eggs somehow fall into the dairy section, although this makes absolutely no sense to me because they come from a chicken’s butt vs. a cow’s teet. They are not liquid, rather, they are somewhat snotty, or mucusy if you will, but definitely not what I would call liquidy. So I do have a little trouble associating the whole egg/dairy thing, but I’ll make the stretch for the purpose of the expiration discussion.
In my conversation this week with my friends, one of them actually thought that eggs NEVER expired. When I heard this I found myself for the second time in a few short minutes saying, “Are you kidding me?” Seriously who were these food idiots, and how had their children lived past the age of two? For some reason, my friend believed there was some kind of magic power in the egg’s shell and it protected the inside of the egg from expiration. (Weird, I know…) Obviously I felt the need to educate her and did so with the example of the great Easter egg hunt of 1992.
This egg hunt was held in our backyard with plastic eggs containing goodies like chocolate and money, as well as real hard-boiled eggs. The kids did a great job of chasing down most of the eggs, except for a few of the lavender and pink hard-boiled ones. We eventually gave up because we forgot where we had hidden them too, so we went inside to eat chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps. All was well until about two weeks later when a horrible stench came from the back corner of the yard behind the hibiscus bush where two of the eggs were tucked away.
My argument for the proof of the expiration of eggs is that if two eggs can stink up an acre yard after they’ve been cooked, imagine what they can do to your stomach if you happen to eat them after they expire! Personally, I don’t want to know!
We jumped right from dairy to dry goods, such as brownie mixes and other boxed goods. This started because my boyfriend who was in on the conversation (and doesn’t believe food expires) happens to have a few boxes of brownie mix in his pantry that bear the stamp, “Best by: 8/10/08.” I told him if he makes the brownies and eats them he will get sick or die. He believes that the “best by” date is really just a suggestion by the fine people of Betty Crocker who wanted to inform him that the brownies would taste best if he made them by August of 2008, but they would still be okay if made after that date – even though it was a year ago. Again, personally I want no part of any brownie mix that is as old as my friend’s baby who just learned how to walk – it’s not right.
From the dry goods our conversation moved to meat. At this point my girlfriend openly admitted that she didn’t believe any food expired … period … until she developed a bacterial infection in her intestines from eating old eggs (which is when she first noticed the date stamp on an egg carton.) At that point she said she had to start “being careful.” The ironic thing was she was in the middle of making dinner while telling me about her bacterial infection and discussing meat expiration; she had just opened a (smelly) pre-made chicken salad package meal, and continued with the prep of the salad, despite the “funny” smell.
It wasn’t until her husband walked in and asked what smelled so bad that she started to freak out and then checked the date on the salad which was “best by” last week. When she told him she had eaten a piece of the nasty poultry during the prep he told her she could get sick, so she ran into the bathroom to try to purge. Apparently she came up empty.
The smelly chicken with the old “best by” date was enough to grab everyone’s attention. Even my guy was willing to take notice at this point – maybe there was something to the whole food expiration concept after all. Soon after dinner I pulled out the lemon bars for desert which I baked from a box mix that he had given me. He assured me it was purchased relatively recently, as the box was stamped with a “lot number” versus a date. It’s all so confusing. When I took a nibble of the first bar I thought something wasn’t quite right, but then suspected that it might just be the mix of my Malibu Rum cocktail with the lemon that caused the odd taste. But when my boyfriend bit into his, he immediately began to gag and grabbed for a paper towel to spit it into. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. “You said you just bought the mix and it wasn’t expired!” He obviously didn’t get the fact that we could have died eating a nasty old lemon bar, and began laughing at my face, my reaction and the fact that he had tricked me into baking expired food.
Personally, I didn’t think it was very funny. “If I die, I’m going to be so mad at you!” I threatened as if it really mattered. He continued laughing as I dumped the pan of lemon bars in the trash. When I challenged him on the purchase date of the box mix he admitted that it “may” have been a year or two ago. The only solution to my swallowed bite was another cocktail in hopes that the additional alcohol would kill any bacteria that might attempt to find its way into my intestines.
Meanwhile, my friend who swallowed the chicken missed all the lemon bar action because she was still inside trying to purge the bad chicken chunk from before dinner – sort of a palate cleanser I suppose. Let’s just say that everyone who was there that night is now further enlightened and has a new-found appreciation of the “best by” dates stamped on food packages – it’s not just a suggestion, it’s a “toss” date, so to speak.
© Shelli Netko