Expiration dates - Who can you trust?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

At first we were shocked to learn that the many and various food pantries and other similar charities across the country actually have volunteers and/or employees whose sole job is to read the expiration dates on donated food items and toss those that have expired.

It's a food safety matter, they say. They're looking out for the unsuspecting consumer (welfare recipient).

While we admit this is probably a good practice, at the same time we question the validity of many such "expiration" dates that can easily be argued away as nothing more than a slick corporate marketing tool to move more product by forcing the consumer to hurriedly use or toss what may be perfectly good food.

And it basically boils down to, "Who can you trust?"

For eons, food producers and wholesalers have used trickery in packaging to deceive consumers, the most common being shrinking the product while keeping the packaging the same size. Another example is cold cuts turkey products labeled "white turkey" meat, deceiving the buyer into thinking it's turkey breast when, in all actuality, it's low-end product from a "white turkey" - the color of the bird's feathers! Lately, we've noticed that many sauce bottles now have strictly "pour" mouths, rather than the former "drip" and/or "pour" mouths. Why? To empty the bottle faster so the consumer must go buy another!

We're all familiar with "Best if used by...," or "Best if purchased by..." labels on many various food items in our meat and grocery departments. Our question is, "Or, what?"

Does the food spoil after that? Does it become harmful or toxic? Will it sicken us? Is it less nutritional? All the above?

Not willing to take any chances, are the cautious consumers among us throwing away perfectly good food and being forced to go out and buy more? It's obvious many simply donate such items to the food pantries.

And thusly, the phenomenon mentioned in the first paragraph, which leads us to ask, Do we donate said items to food drives thinking the "poor people" among us can serve as guinea pigs while eating the questionable foods? In a sinister roll of the dice, are we assuaged by "getting rid" of what might be harmful to us, yet feeling good for donating the questionable food to the needy?

With all this in mind, we say it is time for the government, USDA, vigilant citizen committees, or somebody to get involved and force the food producers and packagers to come clean with consumers - Are expiration dates for real? Are they a guess on the shelf life of a certain product? Or is it all a marketing ploy to move more product by duping the consumer into rushing to use, or discarding perfectly good food items?

The people have a right to know, is the food safe to eat or what? And can we ever believe in the answer?