Did You Check the Freshness Date?

trashMy wife scowls whenever I pluck something off the supermarket shelf.

“Did you check the freshness date?” she asks.

She knows I never do. Those dates rarely make sense to me.

Milk? Sure. Eggs? Sure.

But they put them on everything. They print them on cans, stamp them on boxed cereals and even date Mac & Cheese.


You could eat Mac & Cheese out of King Tut’s tomb without feeling any ill effects.

But freshness is the law for my wife. She picks through vegetables, eyeballs meat and blocks the supermarket aisle to scrutinize the label on water softener salt.

At home, she is just as fanatic. I once watched her check the expiration date on a bottle of water. It was past due. so she chucked it.

That is what bothers me the most about those dates: throwing things away.

It seems everything must have a mortality date. Clothes go out of style. Cars are built to fall apart. Appliances break down. Even attitudes age. Everything must make way for the onslaught of the new.

I guess the reason I never got into the habit of checking expiration dates is that I never had to. I grew up in a large family where nothing went to waste. Our clothes came from our older siblings, which in turn came from older cousins (it is scary to ponder where the cousins got them), The same went for bicycles, baseball gloves and board-games.

Everything, absolutely everything, was handed down. If it could not be eaten, it never left the family.

Who knows? Most of that stuff is probably still in circulation.

But my wife was raised differently. Her family had only four kids and not nearly as many cousins, thus she does not understand how the world works. Which is strange because her father is like me. He grew up poor and never got into the habit of checking dates.

Once when we were making toast at his house, I went into the cupboard for preserves and I found what looked like a treat. Blackberry jam.

Of course, my wife had to ask, “Did you check the freshness date?”

“Yes,” I said. (I lied.)

“Gimme that,” she said.

She twisted the jar this way and that, until she found the expiration date then she almost fell over.

“This isn’t blackberry jam,” she said, “it is ten year old strawberry jam.”

That cured me. Now I check the dates on everything.

Author: Almost Iowa


57 thoughts on “Did You Check the Freshness Date?”

  1. Just today I was checking the date on extra sharp cheddar cheese, not so much because I was worried about the dates, but we had more than one package and I figured I’d grab the oldest. Besides, it seems like with sharp cheese, the more aged, the better.

    As part of my regular volunteer gig at the food bank (pre-pandemic), I was on a crew that sorted through cast offs from the grocery stores, along with food drive donations. (Processed foods, mostly. Perishables went to a different crew.) We didn’t bother checking the dates. We more looked for things like rust, creases, or swelling on cans, packages that have lost their seal, or things that shouldn’t have gone to us in the first place. (Nothing like the delights of a pound of hamburger that’s been sitting in a donation bin for 6 weeks…)

    So yeah, I’ll check dates on things we have for ourselves, but I’m not religious about it.

  2. I am from Iowa. Shenandoah. Southwest corner. Missouri is 13 miles south. Nebraska 35 miles west. So, where is Almost Iowa? BTW I always check freshness dates too.

  3. I do check the dates, but on most things, if it’s near enough, then I just use it anyway. My family seems to believe I’m quite the authority on the matter although really it’s just impulse and random guessing! Ssh!! Don’t tell them I said that!

    My mother-in-law is a real hoarder, she won’t chuck anything away. She’s made jam from all the fruit in the garden for years and she now has thousands (no, I’m not exaggerating) of jars of jam. It’s so bad, all of her shelves in the cellar are completely full. So she started stacking them on the table tennis table that used to belong to her sons. It’s one of those old, sturdy things. Anyway, she stacked so many jam jars that the table cracked and broke. She’s one of a kind, my mother-in-law.

  4. I was told of a bumper sticker, that said ” If voting made a difference it would be made illegal overnight”
    So yes, refunds on non performance.
    Decades ago, my father told the story of a seed salesman for a big seed company, who would check the dates on the domestic seed packets. Those past due date were removed – for repackaging!

    1. ” If voting made a difference it would be made illegal overnight”

      My favorite political assessment: there are two things a person should never see being made: sausage and laws.

  5. Ha! That would do it! I do agree that we’ve gone overboard on expiration dates, though. (Seriously, how does water expire?) I suspect it’s a marketing ploy just to get us to throw away food so we have to buy more. But I do admit being very stressed when I discovered that the dressing on the salad my mother had served me, and I had eaten, was a year past its expiration date. But hey, I’m still here!

        1. Learn? I don’t do that. When I was 16, I knew everything there was to know. Now I know more everything and I can’t be convinced otherwise. Life is easier that way….. Oops, gotta go, there are kids on my lawn.

  6. I’m in awe that you didn’t have to check the expiry date as a child. That’s a refrain from my childhood programmed into my mind and psyche to this day. Such a carefree childhood you must have had.

      1. We didn’t have packaged foods either, but our staples like milk or flour had expiration dates on them. I wonder when that started to be the norm? 🤔

  7. It only takes one, doesn’t it? I don’t drink milk, but moldy bread is my bane. Now I just keep it in the freezer. I frequently find things in the cupboard long past the sell-by day. If it’s good (and it pretty much always is) I use it. Hate waste!

    1. Here is what it sounds like when my wife is cleaning out the refrigerator:

      “Science project…”

      “Science project…”

      “Science project…”

      “Science project…”

  8. Glad I kept this post to start my day off with laughter. Here’s where I come from – would my grandmother have chucked that food item, and I go from there. For instance, every piece of fruit needs to be perfect today, but it use to be that you cut the bad piece off and used the rest. I look at the dates on dairy or meat products and try to choose items with the longest dates, but I’ve been known to use the ‘look and smell’ test. I’ve also definitely had a laugh over finding something in the back of the pantry with a date that chocked me right up. 🙂 I’ve had young ‘food police’ family visit and find it a real game to go through the items on the frig door. Oh well, glad to provide entertainment to the younger crowd. 🙂

  9. I loved this! We’re much like you, and check the dates on fresh stuff but never worry about the rest. Sell by does not mean use by- that’s my motto. I caved and checked the salad dressings that live in the door of the fridge. Refrigerated means it should keep forever. Right? Well, the oldest date was pre-2015. We tossed a few. But we’d used them for years and all was good. Hmmm….

    1. You know…..I am thinking if something hasn’t been used in five years, it ought to get tossed.

      Uh…..but that don’t apply to “my stuff:. 🙂

  10. What I hate is when I buy a gallon of milk on July that’s marked “good until August 15,” and then when I get it home it’s soured. That’s a handling issue, though — not a home storage issue. I have been sitting here pondering what a nice thing it would be if we could put a “use by” or “good until” date on politicians. That’s kind of a fun thought to play with.

    1. Heck, I take something as simple as a political warranty: “if not completely satisfied, return within 30 days for a full refund”.

  11. As you know I have been banned from the grocery store for life, so I don’t have to worry. (among many egregious crimes I once brought home an item that was past the sell-by date) If it is in stock in our house the dates are right. Fun post, Greg.

  12. I’ll bet that jam as they half bad. Might have gotten a good buzz.

    I only look at them for rough guidance. And I get in trouble for it…

  13. I’ve been know to bring things home that are best “sold by” tomorrow. I figure that means they’re still good for at least a week, because most people buy groceries for a week. I’ve been unsuccessful getting that argument accepted, but I hold to it.

  14. Lol. I never check either, but my husband is a fanatic about it. My mom was the opposite extreme. One time, she made pancakes and they tasted really stale. I checked the Bisquick box and it was 18 years old!

  15. as a former supermarket clerk, I can with firm conviction let you (and your lovely wife know) a secret about those dates. They are Not and never have been “expiration” or “freshness” dates. They are “sell by” dates that are required by the fda. They have zero meaning to consumers. After the sell by date, all cans, products, etc are pulled from grocery shelves (or should be) then the food is donated to several charities OR SOLD OVERSEAS. If a can has rust on it, or appears to be rounded up the food is bad and should be thrown out. If the can appears okay the food is too..for up to 25 years if canned in aluminum. If in a glass jar, the food is “good” for 10 years. Relax

  16. Ha! Blackberry, strawberry….. it’s full of sugar and therefore good no matter the century from which it sprung.
    My husband grew up on a dairy farm and religiously checks the milk date before purchasing, but anything else is fair game. If it ain’t blue? he’ll eat it.

    1. Same with my father-in-law.

      One day, my brother-in-law asked him where the can of beer that had been rolling around his truck for years went.

      The old man just shrugged.

      “You drank it, didn’t you?”

      He did.

  17. When I lived in Turkey, if something was past the expiry days for a few days, we could not consume that product because it tasted bad. But in the US, I use a lot of things way past the expiry date and it seems fine.

  18. look just above your hairline on the back of your neck. See that? Mine says “09/18/2028”. I try not to pay attention to it. I figure it’s just a guideline….:p

  19. We have a joke in my house. If something is iffy, I check the expiration date, then tell my husband, “Smell this.” He totally trusts me…..

    1. I use the smell test too, but my wife doesn’t trust it. She asks, “did you know that Scooter rolled in the remains of a dead skunk on your walk?” No, I did not know that.

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