But there's one thing that's been sticking in my craw for ages: Food Codes
Oh, you've seen them - they look like secret war communiqué - some long-forgotten code guy from WWII was surely employed to come up with these things - and some long dead code-breaker is probably sitting, still on his chair in the kitchen; a can of tomato paste clenched tightly in his lifeless hand...even though his skin has long since decayed.
The can? No one is sure if it or the man expired first - face it, "T09538P1 1182" doesn't give you much to go on.
Is the "T" a month? No months start with "T" - hmmmm...is it code for a month? "09" - is that 2009 - or does the "8" at the end of the first set mean "08"? What the heck's that "P" doing in there? What's with the four digits in the second set?? Dammit, when does this expire? I'm hungry and I want to eat!
Oooh...I know what I'll do -- I'l go to their website - surely expiration dates will be addressed somewhere in the FAQ portion..which looks kinda like this:
How do I open my can?
Can you tell me once and for all...is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?
My boyfriend doesn't like the skinny long spaghetti noodles...can I use your product with penne pasta instead?
I saw an old film the other day and someone made "tomato aspic"...do you know what that is? Do you also sell cans of "aspic" so I can make it?
Oh yeah...that's helpful. Well, I'll show them...I'll just call the company and ask!
"You've reached our office, but it is now closed. Normal business hours are Monday thru Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Time...and Saturdays until noon. Thank you for calling. Good-bye."
Great! Not only am I supposed to eat dinner at 4:00 - but, with the time difference, I'm doomed begin cooking it before 3:00! Don't even get me started with having to start dinner on Saturday before I even get up.
I am under the impression companies do this on purpose...stay with me on this here. Here's my theory:
First off, they can sell things past their expiration dates. When I go to the store and read "G187B716" vs "PQ21883W" I have no idea which one is fresher...so I grab one of them off the shelf and buy it. Then I put it on my shelf at home and it stays there, right next to the other one I didn't think I had already...for, oh, I have no idea...a month...a year...three years? Okay, which one was the newer can I just bought? They both look the same...P comes before R - oh geez...is there a Julian Date here somewhere? Is that 02 in the front - the year or the month...or the factory that made it? So, if I throw them both out to be totally sure...I just go to the store and buy more, putting more money into their coffers and more indecipherable coded cans into my cupboards.
And speaking of Julian Dates...forgeddaboutit -- I Googled...and most companies have their own coding system. I've called up various companies and heard all kinds of cockamamie reasoning behind those cryptic combos.
Oh, I give up. All the other months have equally cryptic letters assigned and are equally frustrating.
"The 'P'? It stands for the plant in Akron, Ohio, which manufactured it."
"Ummm...okay. How about the 'I' in back of it? Is that a lower case L or a 1 or an I?
"Oh, that's the time of day...'1' equals 3:00 p.m."
"So, '2' would be 4:00?"
'2' is 7:00 a.m."
"Uh...ohhhhkay...the 'T' in the front?
"That's the month...that's April."
"Why a 'T'? April has NO 'T' in it."
"Exactly...but August, September, and October do, so those are 'Q', 'W', and 'I', respectively.
I swear, sometimes I'm ONLY going to buy things with a bona fide "readable" date on it...but I always cave in when I see a yummy product, like those "California Kitchen" pizzas...and end up buying them anyway.
What exactly is so hard about an actual expiration date? And, nowadays, to top it off, they not only have those...but "use by", "sell by" and "manufactured by" dates as well. Then to make it even more technical and confusing...some products have an added addendum...even though their expiration dates are wayyyyyy in the future: the "after opening, consume by" date.
You know, I don't have the time (nor desire) to read the nutritional label...now I have to search all over the jar for their "if you opened this...all dates printed on here are null and void" literature. So, let me get this straight...I have to make a mental note each and every time I open that and that and THAT?
And THAT'S exactly how they "getcha".
The law of fridge physics states that the further a product is eventually pushed to the back of the shelf is directly proportionate to the "use by" or "opened on" date. Why that is -- I don't know. And if you don't believe me...open up your refrigerator right now -- and peruse the recesses of it.
Perfectly good items mysteriously gravitate to the back of the shelf without you ever putting them there. It's like that "missing sock and the dryer" conspiracy. No one knows why these things happen...they just do. And even if you went thoroughly through your refrigerator just six months ago...and tossed out everything expired...I bet you'd still find something in there that expired two years ago.
Again, it's an enigma; I think there's some inexplicable "wormhole theory" at work here. All dryers and refrigerators are connected somehow...
...and somewhere, some guy in Berlin is wondering how he got an expired bottle of Paul Newman's "Two Thousand Island" dressing and some woman in China...
...well, let's just say I swear I can't remember ever buying...what looks to be...pickled radish?