Shannon column: Food expiration dates are a conspiracy
Scott Nash is my hero this week. I’m so proud of him I might even spend some money in his out-of-the-way and somewhat expensive grocery store. Nash is the founder and CEO of Mom’s Organic Market and the Washington Post featured him this week.
(That’s another breakthrough. Normally the WoePost only features victims – real or imagined – and their downer stories. The story with Nash, on the other hand, was happy, upbeat, positive and scientific!)
For the past year Nash has been eating food that is past its “expiration date.” The story explains, “He ate a cup of yogurt months after its expiration date. Then tortillas a year past their expiration date. ‘I mean, I ate heavy cream I think 10 weeks past date,’ Nash said, ‘and then meat sometimes a good month past its date. It didn’t smell bad. Rinse it off, good to go.’ It was all part of his year-long experiment to test the limits of food that had passed its expiration date.”
The heavy cream is no big deal. That ultra-pasteurized sugar suspension has the shelf life of Uranium-238. The meat is another story. That’s putting your theory where your mouth is. It’s the grocery-shopping equivalent of Dr. Barry Marshall who drank a glass of Helicobacter pylori to prove bacteria causes ulcers.
I’ve told my anti-science family for years that ‘expiration dates’ are a manufacturer’s scam to convince consumers to throw out perfectly good products and buy unnecessary replacements. The key word in the conspiracy being “buy.”
They moan “it’s expired” and I reply the product is only gaining momentum.
This is one of the rare times when the government and I agree, except maybe for the conspiracy part.
Even the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute has admitted, “‘Best if used by’ describes product quality, meaning the product might not taste as good past the date but is safe to eat. ‘Use by’ is for products that are highly perishable and should be used or tossed by that date.”
The jig should have been up even for the most gullible shopper when they started putting expiration dates on WATER! But sheeplike consumers just nodded and thought, “Gee, I didn’t know that. How old the water in our pool?”
Enviros should be on this like methane on cows, but they are noticeable for their absence. Tossing perfectly good food is wasteful and as the WoePost advises, “And you are not just wasting calories and money. You are wasting all the resources that went into growing, packaging and transporting that food.”
Here’s my handy guide to food longevity. Produce and fruit take care of themselves without government intervention. Canned meat is fine years after the ‘expiration date’ unless the can is bulging. The same goes for soup and canned vegetables. Candy and other bars are best judged individually. Cliff bars and protein bars just become more chewy, helping to cancel out some of the calories. Hard candy is good until Jesus returns. Snickers are fine, but the peanut butter in Reese’s Cups will become hard and develop a clay-like consistence. It’s edible but not pleasurable.
Soft drinks will become flat in a few years, but remain drinkable. Snapple on the other hand won’t. I had a bottle of Diet Peach Tea this week that was of the 2016 vintage and it was awful.
With dairy products let your nose be your guide.
Currently the feds only require expiration notices on infant formula. The other dates are part of the conspiracy. That may be changing. Emily Broad Leib a nanny affiliated with the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic has plans. “We’re going to need the main government agencies that regulate food to be able to say: These are what these labels mean. When you see these on products, here’s what you should do, here’s how you should interpret them.”
She also wants to bring back criminal penalties for those who wantonly tear the tags off of mattresses.
Scott, for his part, maintains, “Some things just shouldn’t be dated.”
I agree. My list of undated items would include water, ‘cheese food’, Twinkies and buttermilk, which is immortal. Buttermilk’s enemy isn’t time, it’s evaporation.
Michael Shannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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