Cleaning out the cabinets after Passover got us thinking about expiration dates. Do they matter? Should we pay attention to them?
We didn’t bother to look for the expiration dates on those half-empty boxes of matzah meal and potato starch. They went right into the trash. We didn’t want them cluttering up our cabinets for a year. But the half-empty can of macaroons? It is welcome to hang around.
And then there are the three unopened boxes of matzah that we unleashed from the five-box shrink-wrapped packaging. We won’t judge the people we know who save these and other unopened Pesachdik “goodies” to use the following year. We give everything to the food bank – well, almost everything.
The Manischewitz Concord Grape wine is already fermented; what could a few more months at room temperature hurt? One daughter asked us to keep the half bottle around. She thought charoset would make a good snack year-round. It’s healthy – isn’t it? All those apples and nuts . . .
We do check expiration dates from time to time. When the milk says, “Sell by April 15,” and it’s a week later, we don’t even bother sniffing it. We believe them and pour it down the drain. We can’t say the same for the packets of hot chocolate mix that have been in Joyce’s cabinet since her children wore snowsuits and mittens. The expiration date must have worn off of that box. If it were still visible, it would say, “Best used by 1990.”
When the first spoonful of yogurt tastes funny, we do search for the date. Why is it so hard to find on a plastic container that’s only 3-inches big? When we do locate it, we have to take off our glasses – or find our glasses – to read it. Then we eat the yogurt anyway. It’s only a few days past.
Many food items don’t have an expiration date but need one – like the tuna salad at the deli counter, which you see clerk rotate before he scoops you out a lump. Old chopped liver has a reputation for being as deadly as anthrax; as much as we love it, we know to avoid it when the top is dry and crusty. We are suspicious of lingering coleslaw, too. When the first taste is tingly and tangy, why, husbands, would you ask us to taste it and see what we think?
The same high-level decision-making applies to the leftover tikka masala in the frig. In our households, we are the ones tasked with making those executive decisions of what to keep or toss. Our theory is that if you can’t remember when you brought it home from the restaurant, too much time has passed.
We were happy to recently discover a helping hand online. The experts at www.stilltasty.com answer loads of questions about shelf life and expiration dates on everything from champagne to cream cheese to cauliflower. We investigated brownies and discovered that they should be eaten within 3-4 days. No problem.
When it comes to medicine, we try to be a little more careful with expiration dates because we grew up with a worst-case scenario. We know a mother-in-law who, with the best of intentions, offers a teaspoon of expired cough syrup or a decade-old Tylenol at the first sign of a sniffle. To avoid this syndrome, we periodically clean out our medicine cabinets. We are surprised to see that the eye drops from that allergic reaction are now 12 years old. Time flies when you are fighting germs.
We know a doctor who draws the line at keeping an expired EpiPen. After all, who wants to be responsible for that bad decision? But that container of expired prescription muscle relaxants is priceless when you need it. Scheduling the first available doctor’s visit – a month from now — to get it refilled would be useless.
Full disclosure: Joyce didn’t give away all of her matzah. She plans to make matzah brie for breakfast until the box is empty. But when she checked its expiration date out of curiosity, she found that there was none. No surprise. What’s to go bad in a dry, tasteless cracker? But she did find a stamp on it reading Passover 2013.
That could make you feel guilty if you are thrifty enough to save Pesachdik food from one year to the next. But we don’t do that. Next year, we’ll make a pilgrimage to ShopRite to buy the same indestructible matzah, but it will be stamped Passover 2014.