You know how there's that whole "Sell By" date on so many food products these days?
Well, I recently learned - the hard way - that those are much more than mere suggestion. I will get back to that momentarily or as long as it takes my new container of red raspberries to grow fur.
But in the meantime, let's chat about the general clarity of that zippy little numeric code. I mean, it is an understatement to say that it is easier to detect on some packages than others.
For a select array of items, you see, the stamp is front and center - blazing like the noonday sun. Think packets of blue cheese, pints of sour cream or cartons of cottage cheese. Apparently, if it has already molded, curdled or fermented in some fashion, it goes straight to the head of the BIG-n-OBVIOUS section of the "Sell By" stamp assembly line. Near as I can determine, the general rule of thumb is this: If it's in the grocery store's refrigerated section, the date code will be located on an item's top front and, ergo, easy to read.
Heck, if it's in one of those freezer grates behind a sealed door, not only is the "Sell By" date as self-evident as the truths in the Declaration of Independence but also, the stamp itself converts your ticket into a free WARNING pass if you're caught speeding to get it home before it thaws.
"Oh sorry, ma'am, I didn't see that you had frozen organics in need of transfer in your bag, there. Here, instead of writing you a ticket, I'm going to provide you a police escort home," is what you will hear.
Oh, OK, not really. But the monikers ARE prominent on frozen foods.
However the "Sell By" dates sure can be elusive on non-refrigerated perishables. You know the ones I mean - those which are harder to spot than a firefly in the middle of a lightning strike.
Man-oh-man, have you ever tried to decipher the "Sell By" date on the bottom of a jar of relish? It's half hieroglyphics and half Morse code with two numbers sandwiched in the center.
I was at the Giant Eagle on Belmont in Liberty the other day with a secret decoder ring in one hand and a magnifying glass in the other, trying to determine if I should buy a can of refried beans or if they expired last week.
What - you think I'm paranoid and that those dates can be taken lightly? Well, you wouldn't if you'd seen me after my severe allergic reaction to gulping down the contents in a packet of expired powdered iced tea recently.
About four hours after swigging down the obsolete concentrate, I couldn't ... because I was one humongous, itchy red hive from the tip of my head to my knees. I had so many dots on my body that I looked like the product of leopard-Dalmatian union - if their spots were red, natch.
Though I suspected sun poisoning, the ER physician I visited with that following morning confirmed that it was a combination of too many rays AND "something you ingested." Now, anyone who knows me knows I eat a LOT, but not in variety. So, I traced it back to some diet strawberry-peach tea I'd tried for the first time the previous afternoon as I tried to quench my thirst from too much sun.
"It was a flavor you've never had? Perhaps the food coloring caused the reaction?" he suggested. Well, yes. That, plus the box had been in my pantry since the Carter administration.
Hmm. Let that be a lesson, folks. "Sell By" is really code for "Do Not Even Think of Putting This in your Mouth Past" - unless you want to look like a peeled tomato for about a week.
Kimerer is a Tribune Chronicle columnist. Contact her with spoiler alerts about your clumpy milk at pkimerer@zoominternet.