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Those Antique Foods in Your Fridge? The Feds Want You To Eat Up.

Those Antique Foods in Your Fridge? The Feds Want You To Eat Up.

As a rule, there are two things I avoid: Mayonnaise. And NPR. 

They make me squeamish. Yet I recently sampled both.

As I’ve mentioned many times, I am not a foodie. If I’m alone for dinner I get a salmon filet and stick it under the broiler. Or I gnaw on a protein bar.

One day last week I was by myself and about to eat a slab of salmon for the fifth or sixth consecutive day. Instead of squeezing lemon on it as I usually do,  I decided to eat it with tartar sauce.

Yes, I occasionally dabble in adventurous eating.

I found a plastic container of the stuff on one of the shelves on my refrigerator door. You know, those sticky rows lined with half-full (or half-empty, depending on your perspective) bottles of soy, steak and barbecue sauce, maple syrup, mustard, ketchup and other occasional condiments.

A collector’s item: Tartar sauce, five YEARS past its expiration date. Someone call Sotheby’s.

A collector’s item: Tartar sauce, five YEARS past its expiration date. Someone call Sotheby’s.

When I squeezed the bottle over my perfectly cooked pink fish the tartar sauce seemed a little thick and greenish.

Then again, I never eat tartar sauce because well, mayonnaise. Maybe this is how it’s supposed to look , I thought, hoping the pickle bits would drown out the greasy mayo flavor and jazz up my sad salmon.

It was awful. Gelatinous and tangy. In a bad way. But I didn’t have a protein bar handy, so I ate it.

A couple of days later, I decided to clean out my refrigerator, which was full of Tupperware containers holding ancient chicken legs, wilted asparagus and assorted unrecognizable items.

I put on my glasses and began to read the expiration dates on jars and bottles. I tossed anything that was more than a year out of date (I figure food companies err on the side of getting us to buy their products so it’s smart to add that year).

When I saw the tartar sauce I was stunned.

“Keep Refrigerated,” it warned. “Use by 3/26/14.”

That chartreuse condiment was five freaking years past its “use by” date. 

No wonder it tasted like dill Vaseline.

I put the tainted tartar out of my mind until yesterday morning, when I was tearing around the internet searching for a topic for today. That’s when I stumbled on a National Public Radio story about labels on food.

I’m not a fan of public radio. We don’t have national public newspapers. Why do we need a publicly supported radio network? One that’s relentlessly, mindnumbingly liberal, no less.

Still, I was desperate. So I read it.

Seems the Food and Drug Administration just fired off letters to food manufacturers urging them stop putting “Use By” on their labels. Instead, the FDA wants them to use a gentler suggestion: “Best If Used By” . 

The only product required to have an expiration date is baby formula, according to NPR. So the FDA letter is advisory.

Why are the feds so worried about use-by dates? It’s all part of a stop-wasting-food campaign.

NPR says Americans are throwing out mountains of perfectly good food simply because it has passed its expiration date.

Obviously, that is NOT my experience. I’m pretty sure I still have food in my cupboard that dates to the Carter administration.

"Consumer research has shown that this phrasing (Best If Used By) helps consumers understand that the date label is about quality, not safety, and that products do not have to be discarded after the date if they are stored properly," says Frank Yiannas, a deputy commissioner at the FDA.

“Yiannas says confusion over competing labels such as "sell by" or "use before" — accounts for about 20% of food waste in Americans' homes. And this message comes at a time when Americans toss out about $161 billion worth of food each year. This equates to about one-third of all food produced in the U.S. being wasted or lost.”

I hate to rain all over the FDA’s parade - and by extension, NPR’s - but how could the feds or anyone else possibly know that Americans toss out $161 billion worth of food every year? Or that 20 percent of that imaginary waste is because of dates on labels?

I Googled “America” and “food waste” and got 298,000,000 hits. Of the articles I perused, all used the same figures as NPR, but none that I could find explained the methodology.

Best I can tell, Americans may waste more food than folks in other countries because we have high-quality diets that include fresh produce, which goes bad quickly.

The lesson here: Skip the fruits and veggies and stock up on processed foods like Velveeta and beef jerky which have a half-lives of 500 years.

Unlike tartar sauce. 


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