Expiration dates worry me. I hate when things expire. But extending an expiration date may lead to lower quality.
A doughnut, for example, tastes great when it’s freshly fried. A few days later, it will still be edible but may taste stale. Two weeks later, unless it’s refrigerated, it will have expired. Anyone who eats it risks being expired too.
Actually, it may take several weeks before the doughnut poses health risks to a consumer. If the doughnut is packaged, it will last even longer, thanks to preservatives. But the quality will be compromised. And once the package is opened, the doughnut will age faster. True expiration may take months or even years, depending on various factors, such as whether the doughnut is exposed to heat, humidity, or a police officer.
Before deciding whether a food item is safe to eat, it’s important for consumers to conduct tests of their own, such as these:
1. The sight test. You do not need a microscope for this. Just look at the food item closely. If anything is growing on it, do not eat it, and do not offer it to anyone who shares your political views.
2. The smell test. If it smells like gourmet cheese, throw it out immediately. Do not eat it. (Unless, of course, it happens to be gourmet cheese.) Any type of unpleasant smell is a sign that a food has expired unless the item had an unpleasant smell to begin with.
3. The taste test. If the food has failed the sight and smell tests, do not attempt the taste test. You may seek volunteers for the taste test, but please do not just offer them the food, like you would a guest. Make sure you say something like this: “Can you please taste a small piece of this meat pie to see if it is still good and won’t cause anyone else to drop dead?”
It is important to have willing volunteers for the taste test and to not recruit unsuspecting volunteers, such as your pets. Do not use your guinea pigs as guinea pigs. I’ve never had guinea pigs, but I’ve had dogs, and I know one thing to be true: dogs will eat anything that looks remotely like food. Swallow first, ask questions later.
Dog: “What was it that I just ate? Looked like cheese with all those little holes.”
Second dog: “Smelled like cheese too.”
Owner: “Has anyone seen the kitchen sponge?”
Many food manufacturers voluntarily put expiration or “best before” dates on their products, but these are just estimates of how long a product will maintain its peak quality. Some foods are safe to eat for years after they have expired, but consumers are still wary to eat them, in case one expiry leads to another.
Of course, it’s not just foods that expire. TVs, microwaves, and other appliances expire too. Several TVs suffered untimely deaths in Brazil last year when the national team was eliminated from the World Cup. Most TVs rarely last longer than 10 years, but you won’t find an expiration date on them. However, if you live in Britain, your TV license — or should I say “license”? — does expire.
Many other documents, including passports and driver’s licenses, also have expiration dates, because it’s one of the best ways for the government to keep getting money from us.
To be fair, a lot can change in a few years and government officials want to make sure they have our latest addresses, photos, and genders.
Thankfully, humans do not have expiry dates, especially if we’re healthy and have not antagonized Vladimir Putin. We may live to be 122, the current world record, or perhaps even longer.
It’s quite common, however, for governments and employers to put “best before” dates on us. A mandatory retirement age is basically a “best before” date. But like “best before” dates on food items, these can seem quite arbitrary.
Some people achieve “peak quality” at age 30, others at 70. Bonnie Garmus published her first book, the best-selling novel “Lessons in Chemistry,” just before she turned 65.
If you’re going to put a date on her, make sure it’s a “best after” date.