Expiration Dates: Guideline or Rule?

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Expiration Dates: Guideline or Rule?

I am squishy about expiration dates. If something is a few days past due, I don’t get crazy about it. If it smell/looks funky, or is a bulging can, then regardless of in-date or out-of-date, we do not eat it.

As many of you know, I used to be a couponer (wow! never though I’d say “used to be” with “couponer”!). I started couponing 30+ years ago because back then, if I didn’t coupon, we didn’t eat. I kept on couponing even after it was no longer a financial necessity for many reasons (see below). However, when my blog died, I decided to take a couponing break. For trademark-purposes I brought back Coupons, Deals and More, but I no longer hard-core coupon myself.

As those of you with teenagers know, they eat a lot. Specifically teenage boys. When a pack of teenage boys descend upon a kitchen, it reminds you of the ravaging that locust can do: nothing edible is left when they are finished. This was a major reason I continued couponing for years and years: Sonny-boy and his buddies! They could eat us out of house and home in a few days. The cost of feeding a group of teenage boys is considerable, so, to get the “good food” (ie, junk) they liked, I continued to coupon.

I kept on couponing even after Sonny-boy went off to college. He’d frequently come home with a few frat-buddies, and they would “shop” in my basement stockpile for the frat house. It was fun to have a reason to continue “the game” even though a mob of teenagers no longer invaded the house. Another perk was that I could help some poor college kids defray their food budget by providing them free food.

Once Sonny-boy graduated from college, I should have quit couponing immediately. Actually, I should have quit the second he started his senior year. They only “shopped” in in my basement a few times that year. Which meant I accumulated a lot of groceries Hubby and I were never going to eat.

I meant to do a donation run, but never quite got there. When the basement got water this past spring, things were destroyed, but my grocery stockpile was fine. It was all off the ground safe and dry. However, when I went down to look at what was lost downstairs, I noticed that a lot of groceries had been down the basement a loooooooonnnng time. While Hubby was shoveling out his basement mess, I mentally noted I would have to go through the old stockpile and see what I should toss.

This past week, I did: THE GREAT PURGE. (Yeah, this deserved capital letters.)

You know how people always say things last “forever” in bottles? Ummm not really. Some of that salad dressings lurking on our basement shelves has a date of 2009 stamped on them.

Actually, a bottle of salad dressing was what prompted me to finally go through the stockpile.

We have received a decent share of romaine lately from the CSA, and I wanted to make an easy Caesar salad. The bottle of Caesar dressing we had down the basement was a pretty funky shade of brown. I looked at the date, and it was old. Heading to the store for a replacement bottle, I discovered Caesar dressing was actually a much lighter, creamy whitish color.

Ummmm… time to purge.

I tossed the separated bottles of hot sauce, the outdated BBQ sauces, mayo from 2010, and much, much more. In all, I took out two garbage bags of various foods, mostly condiments.

I figured since I was checking dates and tossing food, why not go through the pantry upstairs? We clean out the pantry twice a year, so how come 2011 was still well represented? I smelled Hubby’s packrat tendencies, but decided to just let it go and toss things myself without trusting him to do the tossing, or telling him I was tossing until after the fact.

And finally, I went to the upstairs linen closet where I tossed outdated OTCs.

In all this, I only found one bulging can, so that wasn’t bad. I also learned that I was correct to stop couponing. Hubby and I get plenty of food from the CSA, ordering a pig and half a cow, and going to the store every other week for dairy. Since it is now just the two of us, I no longer need 50 salad dressings (and apparently never did), enough OTC medicine to stop the sniffles of all of Sonny-boys frat-buds, or “healthy” snacks and crackers that taste like cardboard. Apparently we like stuff that tastes like fat and sugar because I didn’t find a single bag of expired potato chips, Popcorn Indiana or chocolate.

So in conclusion, while I am willing to play fast and loose with expiration dates, something 4-5 years past prime is a little too expired, even for me!

Do you rotate your cupboards? Check expiration dates when you do? How expired is “too expired” for you?

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  1. I stopped avid couponing also. I do use coupons for the things I am buying when I have them though. The salad dressing was one of the things that made me realize I had to stop. I still have some 2009 also. If I recall we had a ton of coupons to get it for free. Apparently I bought too many flavors that went unused, but I have purchased more ranch. I also recently purged most of the salad dressing (I did find a few stashed in another spot that need to go). I also purged old crackers and cereals. Those simply do not stay fresh a long time after the date. I do consider the expiration date a guide on most things. I even think that about sour cream and yogurt. I mean it is called SOUR cream after all. I think if it is smells and looks fine, plus no mold you are good to go. I did manage to donate a bag full of stuff that was not out of date and I purged a bag full. Then I also took in all of my recycling and was so happy to have those things all done! I purged OTC items last fall but I think I need to do it again this fall. That one is really tough to do for me. Some of those items only get used once in a while, but it is good to have the stuff on hand. I really did get way too much when I was couponing though. Only two of us in our home these days, just like you.

  2. I do consider the expiration date a guide on most things. I even think that about sour cream and yogurt. I mean it is called SOUR cream after all.

    I could not agree more, Shell, and have said the same more than once.

    The OTC was difficult for me too. “What if” we catch a cold, get a sore throat, etc, kept running through my mind. I mean it isn’t like there isn’t a drug store every 10 feet around here… And that is what actually made me ok with that purge: not only was it old, there are so many places to buy OTC around here, that I could run out and be back in 15 minutes.


  3. Yep, yep & yep. Did much the same Ann. We also now buy high quality & specialty items. With just the 2 of us it works.

    On the OTC, I tossed everything (actually didn’t have that much………….our storage is somewhat limited, which now I think is a very good thing). Anyway, I tossed everything, but the most current which was still not expired. Hubby & I both got very ill in February. We were down for a week. I was actually out of it for about 3. Miserable cold, flu, whatever. The first few days neither of us would have made it to the store. Daughter picked up fluids., cough med or whatever else we needed & brought it to us. So, because of that I couldn’t throw everything. I plan to keep the basic meds on hand & will check expiration & purchase annually. Or at least that’s the plan.

    And I actually still coupon the drug stores. I spend money, but really try to only buy what I need, still less than full price with coupons/rewards. I try not to succumb to the useless money makers. We don’t need more landfill & it often is something the local charities don’t want either.

    Anyhoo, that’s my story & I’m sticking to it!

  4. Well I still coupon but I never fell for the massive stock piling, for 2 reasons. Firstly because I truly do not have a space for a big stock pile, I just have 4 shelves under my stairs and my kitchen is very small with very little cabinets, but secondly because I think it is obsessive. When I watched those extreme couponers on tv, and then of course watched the hoarders shows on tv, it seems like the same thing if you ask me. Just my opinion. When I moved into this house, my mother in law had OCD and if she had one bottle of laundry soap , she had 15, There were multiples of everything and no where to put them all and you cant throw anything away, because you may need it. Cleaning out after her 69 years of life made me realize a few things. How many pairs of jeans does one person really need? You can only wear one at a time. I could not just throw things away so I found places to donate things and hopefully helped some people with the excess she left behind. She came from a different time when people canned food and you always had 2 fridges in case one broke and it took me YEARS to sift through it all. Now I do buy laundry detergent and stock pile a few when they go on sale, but not 15, that takes up too much space and in a small home with no closets or storage area, I feel, again my personal opinion, I feel it is more important that I get what I can store NEATLY and not have piles of stuff laying around. So I have never had the issue on the level that others do. Once I saw that, I said NOPE NOT ME> as far as canned goods go, I rotate and that keeps things from expiring but the real key is only to buy what you know you will use. So I do still coupon, and people ask me in the store if I am an extreme couponer. I always laugh and say I don’t think so because they walk out of the store with out paying much. I still pay a lot, and now only clip or print coupons that I KNOW I will use, like for pet food, or paper products or meats. I find that means less time sorting too. I then send all the coupons I don’t use to a friend who has 4 small kids and it helps her. My point is, if you stock pile is so big it is making you work at using it all or storing it all, or rotating it all, it is not good. Your time is money as well. I hit the can can sale twice a year at Shop Rite and when they have their pet months, I stock up on pet stuff, and when I can find a good meat sale I stock my freezer but only a little and only things I know I will use. I cry real tears IF I have to throw out something because it has expired. It makes me think someone else who was hungry should have had that. There are many times that less is more…. and peace of mind in a neat organized home is priceless!

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