Our salad dressing died a few months ago.
That is to say, it expired. Or went bad. Or did whatever salad dressing does when its time has come.
It was a brave salad dressing, a chunk-filled bleu cheese, thick and creamy. My wife Barbara loved it so much, she refused to let it rest in peace. The undead dairy kept appearing on our dinner table long after the date by which it was supposed to have been consumed.
This was particularly upsetting to our daughter’s boyfriend Alex, who firmly believes that he will drop dead on the spot if he eats something past its expiration date. It’s become somewhat of a war between Barbara and Alex: she keeps trying to sneak old food past him and he keeps examining each item’s credentials as if he works for the TSA at the airport and that Breakstone’s Sour Cream is a suspicious-looking passenger.
One time, in September, we sat down to dinner only to find that Barbara had set out a salad dressing which had expired in March. When Alex pointed this out, she sent him to get another bottle from the downstairs fridge. He returned with three: one that had expired in April, one in May and one in June.
Another time, Alex noted that the date on the dressing had been scratched out in an amateurish attempt to put one over on him. Yes, that’s right: Barbara had redacted the date.
I’m pretty sure Barbara doesn’t purchase these past-due products on purpose, like people who buy day-old bread to save money (and, perhaps, have a head-start on making croutons). I think maybe she just purchases some things at a faster rate than we can consume them, and then forgets to rotate, putting a new bottle in front of an older one. Of course, if that was the case, you’d think Alex would find a fresh bottle at least occasionally.
Barbara believes these dates are only suggestions, overly-stringent restrictions placed on food by anal attorneys. She tells Alex she’s read that foods don’t become poisonous after the expiration dates, they just lose a bit of potency. I mentioned that she was thinking of medicines.* She glared at me. I went back to eating my bleu-cheese covered salad. (I don’t dare check the dates on the dressing.)
Alex, on the other hand is a card-carrying hypochondriac, so the simple knowledge that he has ingested an untimely food product can cause him to tremble. But then Alex can afford to be hard-assed about his freshness requirements, given that he’s not paying for any of the food he’s demanding to be discarded, or at least eaten by some other member of the household less prone to imagined diseases. I mean, you know they’re putting some leeway into those dates. Maybe half a year is pushing it, but certainly a couple of days isn’t going to kill you. If it was the end of the world, and Alex’s only choice of food was slightly overdue yogurt or a human arm, which would he choose?
In some fairness, I must say that food purveyors make things confusing. Depending on the product, it may have a “sell-by” date, a “use-by” date, a “best-if-used-by” date, or, in the case of one brand of beer, a “born-on” date. Alex would prefer not to eat anything after its “sell-by” date. Barb’s theory is that a “sell-by” is only a purchase deadline; as long as you buy it from the store’s refrigerator by that date, the item can then sit in your refrigerator indefinitely. She also views the “best-if-used-by” label as a qualitative gesture; sure, that mozzarella might have been best three weeks ago, but it’s still better than a new jar of Cheez Whiz.
What Barbara and Alex need are clearer labels. Something along the lines of “If you even open this bottle after December 18, 2012, you will die.”
Until then, I’m staying out of it.
See you soon.
*I know this because my mother treats prescription drugs like heirlooms to be passed down from generation to generation.