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Harris Blackwood: Judging foods freshness the old-fashioned way
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When one goes scavenging in the refrigerator or cupboard for something to eat, there is always that question as to whether or not it is “bad.”

Some things are not on my desired palate, such as asparagus. That would never pass my test as “good.” Not that it is spoiled, but I just don’t like it.

On two occasions, I have lived on my own. There are things I miss about that. If you are craving a glass of milk and you’re not sure if it’s OK, you can always test it by taking a whiff after opening the top of the jug. If it smells OK, you might take a swig out of the jug to verify your initial conclusion. You can only do this if you’re single, and generally this is done standing in the light of the refrigerator in your underwear.

The smell test is applicable on a number of food products. If if smells all right, it probably is.

The other acceptable test for singles is the observation test. Is anything growing on it? Usually, this is some fuzzy stuff that even the most tolerant of eaters will turn away.

These days, manufacturers put a date on the package. Sometimes it says things such as “Best if used by” or “Please sell by.”

Don’t let my wife see that.

I read a national report that says many foods are safe long beyond those days.

Don’t tell my wife this, either.

Other manufacturers place a date with no reference as to its significance. You don’t know if this has something to do when it was made or maybe it was the company president’s birthday.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute are trying to get their members to be consistent in the use of label dates. In other words, an arbitrary expiration date has reached its expiration date.

The groups want all manufacturers to use two dates. One would be the “Best if used by” to indicate while the product may not taste as fresh, it is still OK to eat. The other one is a more definitive “Use by” to say it is not a good idea to use the product after that date.

I kind of like this idea. It would settle a long-standing, but friendly, debate at my house over the safety of food.

In the meantime, your eyes and nose are good indicators as to whether or not you want to indulge in a few potato chips you bought for last year’s summer picnic and whether that sandwich meat is safe for a midnight snack.

If you have further doubt, you can look both ways in a darkened kitchen in the glow of the refrigerator bulb and take a swig of milk. You can also dip a finger in the peanut butter jar and see if it would go well with the milk.

Not that I’ve ever done that myself. Well, not recently. If I did, I think that other expiration date, the statue of limitations, has passed.


Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on

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