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August 12, 2020

"Helpful Hints from joeeze: 'Ignore [food] expiration dates"



Nadia Arumugan, writing in Slate, will sort you out.

Her piece follows.

Ignore Expiration Dates

'Best by," Sell by," and all those other labels mean very little.

There's a filet mignon in my fridge that expired four days ago, but it seems OK to me. I take a hesitant whiff and detect no putrid odor of rotting flesh, no oozing, fetid cow juice—just the full-bodied aroma of well-aged meat. A feast for one; I retrieve my frying pan. This is not an isolated experiment or a sad symptom of my radical frugality. With a spirit of teenage rebellion, I disavow any regard for expiration dates.

The fact is that expiration dates mean very little. Food starts to deteriorate from the moment it's harvested, butchered, or processed, but the rate at which it spoils depends less on time than on the conditions under which it's stored. Moisture and warmth are especially detrimental. A package of ground meat, say, will stay fresher longer if placed near the coldest part of a refrigerator (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit), than next to the heat-emitting light bulb. Besides, as University of Minnesota food scientist Ted Labuza explained to me, expiration dates address quality—optimum freshness—rather than safety and are extremely conservative. To account for all manner of consumer, manufacturers imagine how the laziest people with the most undesirable kitchens might store and handle their food, then test their products based on these criteria.

With perishables like milk and meat, most responsible consumers (those who refrigerate their groceries as soon as they get home, for instance) have a three–to-seven-day grace period after the "Sell by" date has elapsed. As for pre-packaged greens, studies show that nutrient loss in vegetables is linked to a decline in appearance. When your broccoli florets yellow or your green beans shrivel, this signals a depletion of vitamins. But if they haven't lost their looks, ignore the printed date. Pasta and rice will taste fine for a year. Unopened packs of cookies are edible for months before the fat oxidizes and they turn rancid. Pancake and cake mixes have at least six months. Canned items are potentially the safest foods around and will keep five years or more if stored in a cold pantry. Labuza recalls a seven-year-old can of chicken chunks he ate recently. "It tasted just like chicken," he said.

Not only are expiration dates misleading, but there's no uniformity in their inaccuracy. Some manufacturers prefer the elusive "Best if used by," others opt for the imperative "Use by," and then there are those who litter their goods with the most unhelpful "Sell by" stamps. (I'm happy my bodega owner is clear on when to dump, but what about me?) Such disparities are a consequence of the fact that, with the exception of infant formula and some baby foods, package dates are unregulated by the federal government. And while some states do exercise oversight, there's no standardization. A handful of states, including Massachusetts and West Virginia, and Washington, D.C., require dating of some form for perishable foods. Twenty states insist on dating for milk products, but each has distinct regulations. Milk heading for consumers in Connecticut must bear a "Sell by" date not more than 12 days from the day of pasteurization. Dairies serving Pennsylvania must conform to 14 days.

That dates feature so prolifically is almost entirely due to industry practices voluntarily adopted by manufacturers and grocery stores. America urbanized in the early 20th century, town and city dwellers resorted more and more to processed food. In the 1930s, the magazine Consumer Reports argued that Americans increasingly looked to expiration dates as an indication of freshness and quality. Supermarkets responded and in the 1970s some chains implemented their own dating systems. Despite the fact that in the '70s and '80s consumer groups and processors held hearings to establish a federally regulated system, nothing came of them.

These dates have no real legal meaning, either. In 2009, 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner reversed the conviction of a wily entrepreneur who'd relabeled 1.6 million bottles of Henri's salad dressing with a new "Best when purchased by" date. Posner decided that the prosecutor had unjustly condemned the dressing as rancid, rotten, and harmful, when in fact there was no evidence to suggest that the mature product posed a safety threat.

Expiration dates are intended to inspire confidence, but they only invest us with a false sense of security. The reality is that the onus lies with consumers to judge and maintain the freshness and edibility of their food — by checking for offensive slime, rank smells, and off colors. Perhaps, then, we should do away with dates altogether and have packages equipped with more instructive guidance on properly storing foods, and on detecting spoilage. Better yet, we should focus our efforts on what really matters to our health — not spoilage bacteria, which are fairly docile, but their malevolent counterparts: disease-causing pathogens like salmonella and Listeria, which infect the food we eat not because it's old but as a result of unsanitary conditions at factories or elsewhere along the supply chain. A new system that could somehow prevent the next E. coli outbreak would be far more useful to consumers than a fairly arbitrary set of labels that merely (try to) guarantee taste.

August 12, 2020 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Nice Mountain — Gerald Stern


Great little berries in the dogwood,
great little buds, like purple lights
scattered through the branches, perfect wood
for burning three great candelabra
with dozens of candles, great open space
for sun and wind, great view, the mountain
making a shadow, the river racing
behind the weeds, great willow, great shoots,
great burning heart of the fields, nice leaves
from last year's crop, nice veins and threads,
nice twigs, mostly red, some green and silky,
nice sky, nice clouds, nice bluish void.

I light my candles, I travel quickly
from twig to twig, I touch the buttons
before I light them—it is my birthday,
two hundred years—I count the buds,
they come in clusters of four and seven,
some are above me, I gather a bunch
and hold it against my neck; that is
the burning bush to my left, I pick
some flaming berries, I hang them over
my tree, nice God, nice God, the silence
is broken by the flames, the voice
is a kind of tenor—there is a note
of hysteria—I came there first,
I lit the tree myself, I made
a roaring sound, for two or three minutes
I had a hidden voice—I try
to blow the candles out, nice breath,
nice wagon wheel, great maple, great chimes,
great woodpile, great ladder, great mound of trees,
nice crimson berries, nice desert, nice mountain.

August 12, 2020 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

BehindTheMedspeak: "You need to get your eyes checked"


People usually say this to you in a mean way.

Better to do it on your own time.

Like right now.

Click on the graphic above.

Read it from 14 inches away, from the bottom line up.


You can't read the bottom line?

Go away.

The rest of you, do as I instruct.

Keep reading up, line by line, until it becomes difficult to read a line clearly.

Look at the diopter* next to that line: that's the magnification you need in the over-the-counter reading glasses you can pick up at CVS or Walgreen's or Giant or Amazon.

Don't waste your money on prescription reading glasses unless you're concerned about style while you read bookofjoe.

I'm reminded of a great Woody Woodpecker cartoon I saw one Saturday morning when I was a kid.

Woody was taking his driving test and the examiner was his nemesis, Wally Walrus.

First came the vision test.

Wally opened a can of alphabet soup and poured it into a bowl.

The letters spelled out, "I can't see a thing."

Wally said, "Read that, woodpecker."

Woody looked at the letters and said, "I can't see a thing."

Wally said, "What? Read it!"

Woody looked really hard this time, then said, "I can't see a thing."

Wally went ballistic, screamed at Woody and the fun began.


It still makes me laugh.

But then — Earth boys are easy.

*Recently I had a discussion with a reader about my occasional practice of linking a word to its dictionary definition.

I asked her if this might not be considered condescending by readers who already knew the word's meaning, and thus somewhat annoying.

She replied that, on the contrary, it was a delightful feature and that, if a reader already knew the meaning, it wouldn't be annoying at all but, perhaps, reassuring to think that she knew something I felt some readers might not.

Those readers who didn't know the meaning, if they were bookofjoe types, would be pleased to learn something new rather than insulted by their prior lack of knowledge.

So, by all means continue and expand the practice, she concluded.


August 12, 2020 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

William Wegman's Weimaraners


From Atlas Obscura:

Now, for those passing through New York City's 23rd Street Station in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, there's a little eye-catching humor to go with one's commute.

There, a series of colorful, larger-than-life mosaics feature Weimaraner dogs in human poses and clothing — the work of the famous artist/photographer William Wegman, who lives nearby.

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The installation, entitled Stationary Figures, is made up of 11 large detailed mosaic murals throughout the underground warren that is the 23rd Street Station; it was commissioned by MTA Arts and Design.

The mosaics feature Flo and Topper, two of Wegman's Weimaraners, in iconic poses.


The pieces originated as photographs, and were transformed into the tile murals by Mayer of Munich, a German mosaic and glass workshop.

Artisans converted Wegman's photographs into intricate mosaics composed of hundreds of thousands of pieces of glass.


Each panel took over six months to create, and the entire effort took two years.

The mosaic installation occurred during an extensive four-month renovation that was completed in late 2018.


Know Before You Go

The station is located at the intersection of 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) in Manhattan, with several entrances in the area. The murals are underground and placed throughout the station.

August 12, 2020 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gold Slab Notebook

Screen Shot 2020-08-10 at 9.55.07 AM

From the website:

This Gold Slab Premium Lined A6 Notebook is a great way to add some luxury to your lifestyle.

Made from high-quality materials, this notepad beams with golden color, simulating a shiny gold slab.

The small A6 size makes this notebook perfect for on the go or jotting down quick notes and ideas.

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Features and Details:

• 360 pages

• Paper cover

• 6.18" x 4.2" x 0.74"

• 80 gsm acid-free cream color paper

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August 12, 2020 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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