Monday, October 22, 2012

Expiration Dates

“Haven’t I told you to stop doing that?” my wife growled while scowling at me from a barstool on the far side of the kitchen counter.
 “Yes, you’ve told me to stop doing it.”
 “How long would you say I’ve been asking you not to do it?”
I gave it some thought. “About forty years.”
Her lips tightened into a line. “You really are a slow learner.”
Mrs. Chatterbox and I are usually sympatico—Tweedledee and Tweedledum joined together at the hip—but on this we’re worlds apart, hostiles on opposite sides of the Neutral Zone. My blood sugar was dropping and I wasn’t in the mood for battle. I chose my words carefully. “I’d think that after forty years you’d catch on that no matter how much you nag me I’m going to sniff the milk in the fridge before I pour it on my cereal.”
“It disgusts me to see you sniffing the milk carton.”
I considered listing a few things she does that disgust me, but decided it best to keep those worms in the can. Besides, that was a battle I couldn’t hope to win—I have quite a few disgusting habits. “I don’t want to pour sour milk on my cereal and have to pour it all down the garbage disposal. I hate the taste of sour milk.”
She sighed the sigh only the wife of a truly stubborn man can sigh. “Just check the expiration date.”
This was the battle cry that had launched our Forty Year War; it had little to do with me sniffing the milk carton and everything to do with her desire to convert me to her philosophy of expiration dates. She rose from the barstool and walked over to the fridge, where I’d returned the sniffed milk after deeming it worthy of my cereal. She checked the date on the carton. “This expired yesterday,” she said smugly. “That’s why I bought a fresh carton yesterday at the store.”
“If you didn’t want me sniffing the milk, you could have thrown it out yesterday when you brought home the new.”
 She spoke slowly, as if explaining God to a toddler. “Yesterday, Sweetie, the date hadn’t yet expired.”
I hadn’t seen the new carton because, like most guys, I suffer from refrigerator blindness; only humans with uteri can find things in the fridge. It’s a scientific fact that uteri function like tracking devices, making it easier for women to find things. Not that I would have chosen the new carton had I been able to locate it lurking behind the pulpless orange juice. I would have chosen the old one because I don’t believe in expiration dates. Why throw out perfectly good milk just because of a number stamped on the carton? I sniffed the milk and it was fine. A cow gave its all for this milk and I wasn’t going to pour it down the drain until it plopped out of the carton in congealed,  semi-solid form.
For years we’d gone round and round on this business of expiration dates. I’m of the opinion that the date alerts supermarket personnel that the product shouldn’t be sold after this date; Mrs. Chatterbox believes it shouldn’t be consumed after this date.
Several times I’ve asked store employees to weigh in on this. They should know, right? They always side with me. But this isn’t good enough for Mrs. C., who I suspect has climbed out of bed to toss out groceries whose dates expired at midnight. It’s a good thing there isn’t an expiration date on our wedding license or I could now be reeking of
curdled milk while living in a Dumpster.
So how does it work in your family: does the product expiration date mean the store should no longer be selling the item, or does it mean it’s no longer safe to consume it?

Note: today is Mrs. C’s birthday and it’s a momentous one. I expect most of you to side with her on the above question, so this will be my first birthday gift of the day to her. 


  1. And a happy birthday to her!!! I'm afraid I do side with her, and my husband sides with you. So yours is not the only household where this dilemma exists~

  2. I just throw it out at the expiration date because I can't smell to determine if it's gone bad or not. Though I don't buy a lot of milk anyway. Mostly I consume Slim-Fast, which isn't really the same thing.

  3. Many happy returns to Mrs. C!

    The dates on products vary. Some are "best if consumed by" dates, meaning, after that, it may be stale, it may not. Some are hard and fast expiration dates. With milk, they can sell it up to that date, and it has to still be safe to consume for 7 days after, so you have a chance to use it if you buy it on that date.

    In my house of teens, it doesn't matter, nothing lasts until the expiration date.

  4. Mr MB and I are the same way, with him being more like Mrs. C. I sniff the milk and pay the expiration no mind unless it's gone bad. The sniffer will know. He doesn't nag me about it though! :) So I know what you mean, I don't toss it if it smells OK. There is no need to throw away good milk! It's just a reminder to sniff more often maybe!?!?! :) Happy Monday!

  5. Happy Birthday Mrs. C!!!! I ALWAYS put my nose down in the jug of milk and take a big ol' whiff regardless of what the expiration date says. I have bought spoiled milk at the store when the expiration date was more than 10 days away. NEVAH, EVAH trust the date. The nose knows my friend!!!!

  6. Well, Happy Birthday to Mrs. C, but I'm on your side. Unless you're dropping boogers into the milk, what's the problem with sniffing it?

  7. Happy birthday to your wife!

    first time visiting/commenting on your blog. I have to say, what I learned from my mom, for what it is worth, but we never got food poisoning, on milk she would say you could consume it up to a week after the expiration date; but in saying that, I too sniff the milk regardless of the expiration date.

    May your wife have a great birthday!


  8. Happy Birthday, Mrs. C!! My husband is completely in your camp regarding expiration dates. I however, am happy to use those dates as guidelines only. I'm going to have to side with your husband on this one. He still better spoil you rotten today though!

  9. we almost never buy milk because it seems to go bad before we use it up .. i don't smell food because i can't tell if its good or bad unless its reeking .. but i have had food poisoning and trust me i don't eat or drink anything I even suspect has turned or is close to turning .. HOWEVER the expiration date refers to when the item can no longer be sold .. hey if you buy it, ingest it and get sick .. its your own fault ... that date stamp exempts the market from lawsuits .. just saying'

    Happy Birthday to Mrs C

  10. I live in China - none of our groceries are safe to consume from the second they are produced. We consume them anyway because heavy metal poisoning is much slower than starvation.

    For the record, I sniff the milk, but my wife is lactose intolerant so has no stake in what happens to it anyway. I should add that I also sniff most vegetables, meats and pretty much any other ingredient before I use it, to make sure nothing is off. I'm an extraordinarily olfactarily oriented person.

  11. Happy Birthday to the most patient and intelligent woman on Blogger. BUT I have to take your side. I cannot through out good food just because of some typo.

  12. my husband is a faithful sniffer of dairy as well. i actually admire that in a man. i usually forget and have had to chuck out my food too many times due to pouring rotten milk into it because i don't even think to sniff it OR check the expiration date.

  13. I'm with you...shouldn't be sold after that date...and after that date, I would start sniffing; Mr. Eva would side with Mrs. Chatterbox; he's very likely to dump it automatically after the expiration date!

  14. P.S. I'm so excited! I could actually read your blog post today!!!!!

  15. Despite it being Mrs. Chatterbox's 25th (chuckle, chuckle) birthday, I'm completely on your side.

    First, I always smell the milk before I pour.

    Second, I have an uncle-in-law who was some big mucky-muck in the FDA. He said the sell-by date is sell-by and not use-by. He wouldn't even worry about use-by dates. He said he would drink milk weeks after its sell-by date. As he said, "If you're not sure. Just smell it!"

    That being said, I have lived with someone for 31+ years (even though I am also only 25) who has a panic attack if he USES something on its sell-by date.

    Happy Birthday, Mrs. Chatterbox! And I think it's about time you gave it up. Right or wrong, Mr. Chatterbox will always smell the milk.

  16. I sniff the milk carton, too ...even though I can't smell anything. The only time I check those dates is in the store; the longer the shelf life, the better.
    Forty years is a pretty good shelf life that comes from picking your battles.

  17. I'm on the do not sell after, I don't sniff until the ex date is near.

    Women know where stuff is in the fridge because they put it away.. THey very where they put stuff on purpose.

  18. Nice article, thanks for the information.

  19. OK, I am a fence straddler when it comes to expiration dates. I do the same thing, I sniff everything in the fridge before I toss it down my gullet, everything, even if I bought it that day and I know it's fresh. However when it comes to non refrigerated products I'm not so anal. In fact we had #2's birthday party yesterday and half of the nibbles we put out had expired dates on them, they were fine.

  20. I sniff after the expiration date! Sometimes we have a 'sell by date' and an expiration or 'use by' date -- sometimes one or the other. This is one thing neither my husband or I have a 'thing' about though. A lot of times there seems to be an expiration date simply because the law says there has to be and not because whatever it is has gone off -- like a lot of cheese, for example.

  21. ♪♪Happy Birthday to you,♪♪
    ♪♪Happy Birthday to you,♪♪
    ♪♪Happy Birthday Dear Mrs. C.,♪♪
    ♪♪Happy Birthday to you.♪♪

    We don't have this issue and mostly hubby and I are on the same page about everything. The expiration date is often way before some things go bad. Hubby eats stuff all the time that are out of date. Me not so much.

    Have a terrific day. :)

  22. I live by myself so my fridge mostly has what I could consume in a week and that's it. So it's constantly fresh.


    I have some bottles of salad dressing in my refrigerator that say "Use before the end of the stone age" & they're still fine!

  24. Happy birthday Mrs C.

    Here in Blighty we don't call it an expiration date. We call it a "sell by" date. The product is still fit for consumption after this date. In fact, several food labels will go as far as to tell you that it's still edible after this.

    Hope this clears things up. That's if you want to take advice from someone who lives in a country where Liver is considered tasty.

  25. Sorry, it's usually called the 'sell by' date now. Once home it's ignored, and things have to pass the smell test. Or at least not be lumpy when dumped out.

  26. Happy Birthday to Mrs. C., but I can't take her side. You are in the right. Milk can be consumed after the expiration date. That "expiration" date is a "buy by" date. I have a very sensitive sense of smell so I can tell when milk is going bad before anyone else can. Of course, now that I live alone, I get to do whatever I want with the milk. I can even bathe in it and then drink it . . . . ugh.


  27. I'm a milk sniffer too, but I live alone so there's no one to get upset with me about it.

  28. Happy Birthday to Mrs. C..! Sorry, I have to side with Mrs. C on this. The date put on milk is an epiration date. The date on meats is the "sell by" date. I always try to buy milk at an advanced date.

  29. Happy Birthday to Mrs. C! I'm afraid I can't side with her on this issue though. With three growing kids, food hardly ever lasts to its expiration date around here. If it does, given what we spend on groceries, it doesn't get thrown out without failing a sniff test!

  30. Happy Birthday Mrs C! No one in our family sniffs the milk bottle! Actually no one looks at the sell buy date either. We all get through it so fast here that it never gets close to being out of date. :D

  31. Oh boy. I have a strict policy to always side with the female half of the population, but in this case, I would have to agree with you! I have thrown things out way before the expiration date, because they just didn't smell right. And I've consumed things after the expiration date, because they seemed fine. I look at expirations dates as guidelines. I'm more vigilant after an expiration date has passed, but really, nature will have its way and food will spoil whenever it darn well pleases. Sniffing is essential.

    Happy birthday to Mrs. C!

  32. This very topic was addressed on our local news just a few days ago. It seems there is a "sell by" date and a "good until" date. The spokesman from Consumers Report said you can definitely go well past the "sell by" date, but it may not be at its freshest. It's OK to go a bit past the "expiration date" depending on how it's been stored, but you need to examine it carefully. (Smell it?)

    Having said all that, I'd still have to side with Mrs. C. because she's....well....the person who can make your life miserable, and mine too if I ever had the good fortune to meet her. ;)


  33. Happy birthday, Mrs.C!!!!! Whoo hoo! Get Mr. C to treat you!!

    We are a house divided-I believe the date is for the store and its limit to sell the product. Hubs is a staunch ' must not consume beyond the date' person. We have variations of this discussion!

  34. First the important things - happy birthday to Mrs. C!

    Secondly, I sniff. I've ruined a perfectly wonderful cup of coffee by adding milk without sniffing and watching it curdle in the coffee cup.

    I found an expiration date on antiperspirant/deodorant once. It said "Exp. April 14, 2695." Seriously, 2695? Was it made for the survivalist bunker? I sniffed that, too.

    Would you please ask Mrs. C what the plural for uterus is...shouldn't it be uteri instead of uteruses???

  35. Sorry. I can't side with her even if it is her birthday. ;)
    A fellow sniffer.

  36. Happy Birthday, Mrs. Chatterbox!!! Sorry, even in consideration of Mrs. C's BD, I am on your side, Chubby. Expiration dates are dependent on how the perishable was transported, refrigerated and variables of the market and distributor of the product. It does vary from product to product if the expiration means sell by or consume by but my Grandfather was a manager of a supermarket his entire adult life. If a shipment of anything sits on the dock on a hot day that expiration date means NOTHING. The smell or look of a product will determine if it has spoiled quicker because of sloppy handling. Think of it this way, Mrs. C. if two packages of chicken have the same expiration stamp but one store puts it into a freezer for a day or two before it goes out into the case and the other store sticks it directly into a refrigerated case, the date can't be accurate for both. The smell and feel of the chicken will tell you if it's fresh. (hopefully)

  37. Happy Birthday Mrs. C, I hope your day was great and that your milk did not curdle before the expiration date.

    Yes the expiration dates are very important but to verify this we actually have to sniff the carton.

  38. I always sniff the milk, regardless of the date. You might want to try that with your packets of shredded cheese as well. When it smells like feet, it's time to toss.

  39. I am with you Stephen, so much food is wasted because of the "stamp". Nose first, expiry date second!

    Sorry Mrs C......... Hope you had a great birthday!

  40. OK so firstly - there are two dates on any consumable product - a SELL BY date after which the company should not sell the product and a CONSUME BY date

    The sell by date must be adhered to and if a company sells you something after this date without advising you they could be in trouble

    However, the Consume by date is actually only an advisement and it is possible that your product could go off before this date or be consumable long after

    So your wife is right to say check the dates, but you are also right to check that the product is still fit for use via smelling

    How's that for a democratic reply?

    1. I keep hearing about these two dates (sell by and use by) by the carton of milk I'm staring at only has one. Maybe stores in other states are more progressive than here in Oregon.

  41. happy birthday to your wife!
    we drink 2 gallons of milk a day in this house, with expiration dates 2 weeks from today. the kids learned to check milk dates by age 3.
    most other groceries we get from outlets that are cheap and past the expiration date
    we all are with you on the milk thing.

  42. While I wish your wife only the happiest of birthdays, I am with you on the milk sniffing, even though I am imbued with uteri... (Well, one, anyway.) I had a refrigerator that worked, sometimes, when I was in college, and one didn't just dump milk into a bowl, glass, or any other thing, until it was checked for stinkyness. (The landlord didn't think it was a problem, until I made him take the milk from a RUNNING refrigerator, with milk I had bought with a date the next week for expiration, and it was soured already. I finally had a new fridge. So much for 'maintenance'.) However, since I buy several gallons at once, and we usually finish it in about 3 to four days, it's not quite the problem it was when I was the only one drinking it.

    Unless you count the cat...

    Cat (the other one.)

  43. Happy birthday to Mrs C but I'm with you. I trust my nose more than I do the stamp.

  44. Here, they have sell by and use by dates which are different. I never take much notice. I'm one of life's sniffers. I don't really think that's disgusting either. If you spat in the milk that would be a different story....

  45. Hi, Nice post thanks for sharing. Would you please consider adding a link to my website on your page. Please email me back.



  46. I have to agree with you, Kellie does too. Consider yourself vindicated.