The Dating Game

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m quite a savvy shopper when it comes to grocery stores.

While the mall ranks just slightly above the gates of hell for me, the grocery store presents countless opportunities to spend my money on the only thing I really enjoy spending my money on—quality produce and food.

But every rose has it’s thorn, and mine can be found in the broccoli stalks that threaten to brown all too soon or on the lid of a cup of Greek yogurt.


Despite the satisfaction in knowing I have a fridge stocked with my staples, there is also the extreme pressure of  (insert dramatic music here) expiration dates.

Once that fridge is stocked with perishables, I feel compelled to revolve my culinary life around these things. When choosing my food, I will usually default to a combination that allows me to use up something that may go bad (in a month) over something else that may sound better.

In other words, because I’m cheap and neurotic, I have this irrational compulsion to “use up” things before they go bad (or I get anxious seeing them sitting on my shelf for more than two minutes.)

Certain things are dateless—other than me, of course—but they still have a way of creeping into my culinary consciousness. Considering that a veritable vegetable army dominates my fridge, I am faced with these decisions every day. Hearty apple or browning banana?

Sigh…banana again.

Sadly, I do this to myself. I don’t know how many times I have told myself not to buy anything else until I have completely used up what I already have.

If the yogurt culture cult wasn’t there with the little date stamps harassing me from their perch of refrigeration or the broccoli wasn’t there to threaten dryness and browning, then the problem would be resolved.

Or so it would seem.

Along with pressure to consume things before their dated (or undated) demise, there is the pressure to stay stocked. If there are less than four yogurts, reinforcements must be sent in. If the “keep it fresh” banana bag is vacant, action must be taken. If there’s no asparagus in the drawer, well, that almost never happens.

Dates on cereal, rice and water bottles (seriously?) don’t stress me out quite as much, as they have more long-term goals tattooed upon their skin. If I have a year to eat the industrial size box of oatmeal in my pantry, I consider that an attainable, enjoyable goal.

If I have a week to use up the hummus in my fridge, I conjure up my plan of attack and prepare to immerse myself in everything chickpea until I can lick that container clean.


Don’t judge. You know you’ve done that.

On the plus side, the date stamps do actually serve another useful purpose in that it’s one of the only reasons that I am ever actually aware of the date. I choose my yogurt in the store (picked from the back, as if they stock correctly, those will be the latest expiration dates) and use it as a frame of reference.

"Let’s see… Aug. 22. That means today’s date is probably some time before that."  

See? Handy for someone with the memory of a hyperactive gnat on crack. 

So I suppose this necessary yet neurotic watch is just one of life’s little pleasures and pressures. I will continue to play the dating game, ensuring my groceries are never outdated while ignoring the fact that my clothes always are.

Pick your battles people, pick your battles.

I pick perishables.

32 responses to “The Dating Game

  1. I’ll always remember that Gallagher joke: “When yogurt goes bad, how can you tell?” Or was that Carlin?

  2. donkeywrangler

    I was once, but no longer, married to a milk delivery man…he said that milk, properly refrigerated, should be good 7 days after the “sell by” date. Cottage cheese or yogurt he would still eat up to two weeks past the “use by” date.

    Not me! I don’t consume past the “use by” date…

  3. Didnt you do a post like this about a year ago? Maybe it was someone else, but Im pretty sure only you could come up with such brillance.

    Anyhow, we did a whole class in culinary school about foodbourne illness and it gave me a good idea about REAL dates and how whats on the label is just to be “safe” so no one gets sued.

    I expired five years ago but Im still here (although I probably reek)

    • I probably did write something about it, given the fact that I’m neurotic in ways that often repeat themselves. The funny thing is that food-bourne illness has never been a worry of mine. It’s always the fact that I don’t want to have wasted my money. Ha!

  4. Expiration dates drive me insane. I freak out when I know something is getting close to it’s expiration date. I hate buying fresh veggies and fruit because I end up throwing half of it away. The worst is when you forget that you have bananas on top of your refrigerator and then you have a kitchen full of fruite flies and can’t figure out why. Then you look on your fridge and there are some nasty ass bananas chillin’ up there WAAAAAY past their date. So freaking nasty.

    • Potatoes. Potatoes are just about the nastiest smelling things ever if left in a cupboard/closet to age, grow weird sprouty things and mold. The smell is horrendous.

      • OMG YES potatoes! Back in the day when I worked at the grocery store (dear God I wish life was that simple again) I could smell a bag of rotten potatoes from miles away. Of course, customer would always come through my checkout line, with no CLUE they had rotten potatoes in their cart. Seriously, how could they not smell that!

  5. PS Yogurt can totally go way past its date. Sour cream too.

    • Sorry, that starts to negate your “date forcing” structure Abby that you are teasing yourself for but I think you really like it… 😉 😉 😉

    • Agreed. But I’ve found that the organic Greek yogurt will actually mold really close to the expiration date. The others are usually pretty safe. Again, the “smell and look for mold” test 😉

  6. Produce problems? Seems likes small potatoes compared to my expiration issues.
    Every now and then, my father-in-law brings over bags of canned goods, cereal or frozen dinners that he’s decided he doesn’t like. Most of them have been expired for at least a year, some longer. Even the kids know to check dates if Grandpa brought it over.

    • You don’t even want to know the stories of my grandma’s fridge when she still lived at home. The ketchup packets in the freezer were nothing compared to the salad dressing from the Eisenhower era.

  7. I’ll admit it-when I have a bit of hummus left and not enough to put on something yet not quite little enough to justify throwing away, I scoop out with my finger. I’m classy like that.

    I am all for using what you have to make meals, although it may not sound as desirable as something I want. And I ignore the expiration dates on yogurt. Most of the time I’ve found for it to be a little more tard than normal but I’m still alive and kicking.

    PS-Matilda says hi. She has been resting in the shade, FL is too hot for her.

  8. I am the WORST.
    And funny enough I have a post schedule for this upcoming week outline just how awful I am at it 🙂
    Life is really much easier when you share a brain with someone ❤

  9. I live life on the edge. Like someone trying to out-run a speeding train, I love to eat food well past its sell-by date. I figure it boosts my immune system and so I almost never get ill. Plus I have a stomach made of steel so really, it would take a nuclear waste tank from CHernobyl to make me even a tiny bit queasy.

    But I’m like you, telling myself I can’t buy any more food til I’ve finished what I’ve got. Sadly I have a whole pantry of carbs that I am saving for our emergency earthquake supply when I’m stuck in the house and have nothing else to eat.

    • I agree with “I have a whole pantry of carbs that I am saving for our emergency earthquake supply when I’m stuck in the house and have nothing else to eat” except sub “emergency earthquake” for “random Sunday afternoon” and “nothing else to eat” with “nothing else to do.”

  10. I’m pretty good about not using up “past the date” things from our fridge — but on the shelves? I canNOT throw that stuff away even if it is mushy from the humidity (my family never closes bags up properly), it feels as though that ONE day (on a date in the future that will never happen) we will NEED that box of crackers.

  11. OMG Ab you crack me up, I have similar stories but all opposite…my mom would use/eat things past their exp date and I am sorry to say I got on that wagon…except with the fruit….cause once that goes to the darker side I toss it. I’m mean lie that. 😉

  12. My MIL will serve anything. Even if it is wasaay past the expiration date. I have learned to follow my husband’s lead. He determines what is inedible and indicates what should be avoided telepathically vis a vis death eye. I wish she had a little of your neuroses. Even a pinky-finger full would be lovely.

  13. My MIL sounds a lot like Renee’s! She will put one tablespoon of oatmeal in a small tupperware so as not to waste. Their refrigerator is littered with varying sized containers filled with all kinds of leftovers. When they were here last, I got semi-excited to see that they had brought some cool whip (it’s nasty but it’s not beyond me to eat a scoop of it straight from the spoon to my mouth). I foolishly looked into the containers and found pulled pork. Ugh. I was not ready for the smell of bbq. The butter container housed raspberries. That was a bit better at least.

    We do the smell test in our house. I hate to waste, but not as much as my MIL.

  14. You really like hummus, don’t you? My god, girl… As for keeping tabs on those expiry dates of yours, why don’t you order one of those army things: green light means everything’s fine, yellow light (+optional dramatic alarm) means you’ve got to eat something right now, and red means forget about that date you’ve got – you’re staying at home!

    • I’ve actually kind of fallen out of love with hummus, but once you open the container, the clock starts…you have to finish it before it starts growing things. And you’re funny about me having a date…you’re obviously new here. 😉 I date myself, and we get along fine.

  15. Yes, I read a few things here and there. I just can’t believe anyone who’s got so many smart things to say would have to date herself 🙂
    Greetings from the link lover…

  16. I’m such a slacker my husband does all the shopping and all the agonizing over expiration dates. Actually, he’s a lot more casual about it then I might be.

    Choose the apple and let the bananas brown- they make delicious banana bread. Plus, you can use up plain Greek yogurt that way as well. Making banana bread, that is.

  17. I hear ya sister. Hummus stresses me out like nobody’s business. I know the blog world loves it, but I can count on one hand the times it hasn’t been a struggle to finish the tub in seven days. Darn expiration dates!

    On the flip side, I did discover some of my roommates tortillas from January in the pantry this morning that looked the same as the day she bought them. So I guess I consider the molding capability of some foods to be a positive point.

  18. my grandmother once had a cookie jar on top her fridge. i stopped stealing cookies from it the day i found oreo’s growing mold. yeah. i didnt even know oreo’s could do that.

  19. I don’t even think it’s the fact that something could go bad (though that does play an important role depending on the food) that drives me nuts, but more the fact of trying to balance everything. I can totally relate to seeing something I want to eat and choosing something that I feel I have to eat. Do I want oats for breakfast? Nope, I have way too many wheatberries, gotta make those up! Fresh carrots? Too bad, the mushrooms are in need of eating.

    When does the madness end? ._.

  20. So in other words, you and my husband can never be in the same kitchen together. I suspect you’d take turns keeping watch over the items and their expiry dates!
    I loved this!

  21. This post is why I am the crazy lady who keeps making soup in July. I warn myself and ignore until the last possible minute, and then I have multiple pounds of perishables that all perish tomorrow. So I buy $12 more of “necessaries” and boil my soup while I sweat and dream of air conditioning.

    Now all I have to worry about is the fact that I am running out of room in the freezer. It’s full of surplus soup.

  22. I am the same way about the emergency stock – though not so much expiration dates. Greek yogurt lasts and lasts and lasts and lasts…

    I’m sweating right now because with gas prices skyrocketing I simply cannot eat asparagus for dinner every day.
    It’s like forced rehab. Unless my Mom decides to take me shopping. I’m frightened.

  23. I don’t ever pay attention to expiry dates…a lot of things I buy are close to expiration because I like to buy them on sale.

    True fact: before I went to Singapore and lived there for close to 6 months, I bought Greek yogurt and never finished it. I came back, and it was still in the fridge. I ate it, and I survived.

    P.S. HAPPY BIRTHDAY my lovely, wonderful, awesome, freaking fantastic friend!

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