Monday, November 27, 2017

Sell By...

Apple cider! Still good to go!

Sometimes I take a spin through my refrigerator and pantry shelves, checking out the: “sell by” dates—the dates manufacturers slap on products to indicate their freshness and suitability for sale. Most of the time, these are food items, though sometimes they are used with medicines and the like. “Sell by” reassures the buyers that they are in the safe zone—no harm will be done if they consume this stuff.

I am always embarrassed by how many of my possessions languish on my shelves, weeks, months (even, in the case of Tylenol, YEARS) past their “sell by” dates. Mind you, I never intentionally run afoul of the freshness police—it just happens. It is too easy for that container of heavy cream and can of kidney beans to get lost in the crowd. When finally unearthed, the question becomes: are they still safe to ingest? I have read about this at length on the internet, and the finding are mixed. For some people, “sell by’s” are sacred cutoffs. For others (including yours truly) they are merely suggestions. As long as the smell of the heavy cream doesn’t knock my socks off, I’m game to give it a go. As for meds, I figure that expired Tylenol beats no Tylenol at all…maybe my headache will be lessened a smidge?

I encounter the idea of a “sell by” date when dealing with information, too. While some wisdom is timeless, for sure, other bits of info are born of times gone by, and thus are not really relevant to 2017 at all. The trick is to distinguish between the two. Sometimes, works are created before new knowledge comes to light (think every movie prior to 1965, and the preponderance of cigarette-puffing actors). But other times, we need to carefully discern what is evergreen, and what is wilted. The temptation is to keep touting information that supports our beliefs, even in the face of widespread discrediting. Take evolution and climate change denial—after all, 2% of scientists can’t be wrong!

I have been guilty of quoting someone I later learn is a crackpot, just because they sound so darned convincing. This is why it is so important to read widely, and to evaluate everything by its “sell by” date. Truth keeps unfolding, revealing itself to us with the accumulation of data—which is why, for example, we no longer burn people at the stake for claiming that the earth is not the center of the universe.

Giordano Bruno, Burned at Stake: Earth not Center of Universe! 

So, as I uncap that buried quart of milk and give it a careful sniff, I evaluate the “sell by” date and then make my own decision. The wrong choice could make me sick (this applies to information too), so I need to be discerning. And I am grateful indeed for the folks who apply that “sell by” date, and give me a helpful hint about the lifespan of my product.

Off to check the bathroom cabinets! Is antibiotic ointment dated “January 2013” still OK? Hope so!

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