March 26th, 2007

Expiration Dates

by Wendell Weeks • in Food & Drink

I’m a bit of a slave to expiration dates. With a terrible sense of smell and taste, I can’t rely on normal, human warning systems to tell me whether something is edible or not. I remember once, I sprinkled on my pasta some grated parmesan that had gone off, suffering some mild digestive unpleasantness as a consequence. Two days later I used the same parmesan (and experienced the same consequence). My wife finally took a whiff of the cheese and explained that it wasn’t fit for human consumption.

But my full-marks rating for expiration dates has nothing to do with the life-saving capabilities they offer me, and everything to do with what I’ve determined to be exciting new developments in the field. Three specific examples recently caught my eye.

First up was a pack of “Fun Size® Original Fruit Skittles Bite Size Candies” that appeared at the bottom of my snack tray on a flight a couple months ago. Examining the package I found the expiration date was clearly indicated and that it was advised that the contents were best consumed before “65EW019″.

I’ve decided the only explanation is that Skittles last so long, that future representations of time have evolved beyond our current, primitive day/month/year format. Either that or it’s a code that represents the far-off date of the future — a code being used instead of a comprehensible date, because psychological tests showed that human beings will not ingest any food that lasts so long. Anyway, I also noticed that it was distributed by “Master Foods USA” and took comfort knowing culinary geniuses were somehow involved.

My next encounter cemented the “long shelf life” concept when, a couple of weeks ago, I received a “Quaker Baked Banana Muffin Bar” with my weekend edition of The Washington Post (I now regularly delay making breakfast each Saturday until I’ve confirmed that nothing’s come in the mail). The Baked Banana Muffin Bar provided a second example of the new “future date” format, this time “7M018A1 1″. I also concluded that it must be getting more commonplace, since the makers weren’t compelled to include the words “expiration date”, “best before” or any other such phrase on the packaging.

But a recent trip to New York City provided the most exciting expiration date of all. There, in our boutique hotel room (thank you,, clearly printed along the bottom of the bottle, was the safety we’ve all been waiting for: “EXP 11/20/08″. Hung-over and parched, I cracked it open and swallowed gulp after gulp of fresh, delicious, unexpired natural spring water.

I’m not sure what science is involved in determining the shelf life of natural spring water, or exactly what would have happened to the water in my bottle one year and eight months from now, but I’m sure that years of research, and huge sums of money were invested to work it out. And if each of us has to carry a little bit of the burden of that expense on our backs, so be it — we cannot put a price on food safety.

Well, in this particular case we can: $6.50 US for one litre.

Related links:
I didn’t learn how they determine the expiration date, but this boutique bottled water site did inform me that “Water can help relieve constipation.” Enjoy.
Where the boutique bottled water GETS their water. Site design somewhat more old school. Prices probably somewhat more affordable. I’m guessing.
Pick a fruit, be the fruit, fight other fruits in “Mortal Kombat”-style mayhem. Why resist?


Allen said:

Great review Wendell, whoever you are.

Little tip about expiration dates on medicine from someone who worked at a pharmacy for many years. Medicine is good for at least one year after the expiration date, sometimes as many as five years. It\’s all a scam to get you to throw it out and buy more.

March 26th, 2007 at 9:19 am

Katheryn said:

I find that the expiration date on many food products is not easy to find on the package or is actually is sort of a code. It should be big and bold right in front.

March 27th, 2007 at 4:39 pm

Marvin Leach said:

And don’t ever eat smoked salmon if you have even an inkling that it smells a bit ‘off’. I swear I had low grade botulism over the weekend from some bad smoked salmon. Complete with blurry vision and dizziness! Weird!

April 5th, 2007 at 3:21 pm

Administrator said:

Reagrding why the water might ‘expire’, someone just pointed out to me in an email:

“i’m thinking that it’s the plastic water bottle that deteriorates into
carcinogenic materials.”


May 10th, 2007 at 6:43 am

judes said:

The plastic is indeed the problem…

Well, that and the massive 21st century water-hoarding that is just around the corner, but that’s another story, ennit?

If you want a real good time, try to figure out the expiration date on a box of cigars without a key from the company that produced it!

June 7th, 2007 at 11:05 am

Joy said:

This cracked me up! Ahh, isn’t life getting confusing. Thank God He knows what is going on…

November 6th, 2009 at 2:43 am

Shelly said:

I have three cases of Skittles and the Code on the back is - E06JUL11 024 - would the expiration be July 11, 2006 on them ?

April 8th, 2010 at 7:44 am

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