The Value of Expiration Dates

One of the on-going discussions in our household is how valid expiration dates on food really are. My partner tends to treat them as sacrosanct. I, on the other hand, feel that common sense should be applied to them, as I feel they’re often abused to make you throw away and re-purchase edible food.

One area of contention between us is salad dressing. If it’s oil-based, and hasn’t been opened, I don’t care if it’s passed its expiration date. From my perspective, the clock on its viability starts when you first open it. After all, before refrigeration, oil was used as a means of preserving food. This law of physics hasn’t changed, only our perception has.

I feel the same way about cans. When I was an undergrad, most of my friends where Aggies, and I’d often sit in on some of their bigger lectures, one more nameless face in the crowd. I remember a lecture in Ag & Food 4 where the prof talked about sterilization and the canning process. His point was that the sterilization process was so good, that if the can remained intact, the contents would remain in the same condition as when sealed. So I tend to ignore expiration dates on cans, instead looking at the condition (rust = trash). She will throw out cans that are a month past their expiration date.

This all came to a head a few weeks ago when she found an unopened package of salt in the back of the cupboard. Immediately she called my attention to this apparent waste, as we’d have to throw it out because it had passed its expiration date. Yeah, let’s listen to that dialogue:

ME: It’s salt, it doesn’t expire.

Her: It has an expiration date, so it does expire.

ME: It’s salt, literally rock of the earth. Stones don’t expire.

Her: Don’t be silly, they must have treated it somehow, with chemicals, and that’s why it expires.

Now, the label was in Malay, a language I don’t read, so I asked her to translate the front of the package.

Her: “100% All Natural Rock Salt – No additives or preservatives.”

Then she put it back on the shelf.

Last night I ran out of a medication, and weather conditions were less than idea for a run to the pharmacist. We weren’t too concerned, because my partner being a Med student, has her own stock, but the one that I needed had expired 6 months ago. We ended up agreeing that I could take it

Today I read up on the potency of expired medications and discovered that most are still potent up to 5 years after ‘expiring’ and that some have been shown to keep their potency for 15 years beyond their expiration date (Harvard Medical School).

What do you think about the validity of expiration dates? Drop a comment below.

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