Go ahead and eat that: the expiration of food sell-by dates | WHIDBEY RECIPES

We’re all familiar with pull dates on food, something that didn’t exist when I was first learning to buy our daily bread, and all else at the grocery store. Now, we carefully check sell by “best before” “use by” on virtually every product we take home, and if something sits in the refrigerator or in the back of a cupboard until after its pull date, we probably chuck it out.

This is also known, for the store, as “shelf life,” or how long can an item stay on the shelf or in its allotted space in the store before they have to switch it out or get rid of it.

Haven’t you often wondered, as I have, what becomes of all the produce, meat, eggs, dairy products that aren’t sold or used by their pull date?

Personally, I hate throwing away food, and if it doesn’t smell bad or have green fuzz on it, I frequently ignore the “best by” date printed somewhere on the packaging. So, when I recently came across an article in Time magazine about advances in food preservation, I was more than a little interested.

According to the article, NASA has come up with bread pudding that can hang around for up to four years, and the folks in the Pentagon, home of those endearing MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) which feed our troops, have a pound cake dessert that they claim “stays springy for up to five years.” Nowhere in the article was there information as to what these two desserts taste like, either at the beginning or the end of their life span.

Of more interest personally was the idea that because of new-generation food preservation technology, we may be able to cut the food shopping down to once a month and, even better, rarely throw food away because it has spoiled. As much as I love to cook,

I equally loathe food shopping, and because both my husband and I use fresh ingredients (not frozen or canned) as much as possible when we cook, it means shopping about every other day. I’d love to cut that to once a month.

The point of the article was primarily that we lose too much food to rot and decay, food that could and should be feeding an ever-growing population. And, the freezing and chilling sections in use in all supermarkets today, the sole purpose of which is to keep the contents from spoilage, use huge amounts of energy, which is expensive for the grocers and will probably only become more so as energy sources dwindle.

It’s reassuring to know there are conscientious people out there engrossed in finding ways not only to better preserve our food without destroying taste, but also to extend the life expectancy of what we’re buying to feed ourselves. However, it’s not so comforting to realize that, at some point in the future,

I may have food in my kitchen that will outlive me.

I wonder what my pull date is.



Does the name “Spam” ring a bell? In spite of all the scientists currently working on food preservation, as of right now no other food known to man has a longer shelf life, even though Hormel puts a two-year expiration date on the can to keep it moving. A vice president of research at Hormel says it’s possible a can of Spam would remain edible for 15 years, possibly longer. If you happen to have a can of Spam in your cupboard, and because it’s approaching St. Patrick’s Day, you might want to try this substitute Reuben.



8 oz. sauerkraut

8 slices rye bread

1 cup grated Swiss cheese

3 T. butter, softened

¼ cup Russian dressing

12 oz. Spam, cut into

8 slices

Rinse the sauerkraut; drain well. In a bowl, combine ’kraut, cheese and dressing; mix well.

Spread each bread slice on one side with butter. Place half of the ’kraut mixture on the unbuttered side of 4 slices of bread. Top with 2 slices of Spam and cover these with remaining sauerkraut mixture. Top with remaining rye slices, butter side up. Grill over medium heat in a skillet or on a griddle until the cheese melts and sandwiches are golden on both sides. Serve with horse radish on the side, if desired. Serves 4.

NOTE: No, nothing equals the Reuben you make the day after with real corned beef from your St. Patrick’s Day dinner.


And, because you may have corned beef on hand, ready for anything, after St. Patrick’s Day, here are two other unusual possibilities, one for evening, one for morning.


1 loaf (1 lb.) of frozen whole wheat bread dough, thawed

½ cup Thousand Island dressing

2 cups shredded Swiss cheese

6 oz. or so of corned beef, cut into strips

1 can (8 oz.) sauerkraut, rinsed and drained

½ t. caraway seeds

¼ cup chopped dill pickle (optional; I don’t put pickles on my pizza no matter what kind it is; others love it on this pizza)

Lightly grease a 14” or larger pizza pan. On a lightly floured surface, roll the bread dough into a 14”circle and transfer this to the pizza pan; build up the edge a bit all around. Prick the center with a fork to avoid doming as it cooks and bake the crust in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-25 min., until golden.

Spread half of the dressing over the hot crust. Sprinkle with half of the cheese and the corned beef, then drizzle with remaining dressing. Top with kraut and remaining cheese and sprinkle with the caraway seeds. Bake pizza 10 min., until cheese is melted. Remove from oven; sprinkle with chopped pickle, if using, and let pizza stand 5 minutes before slicing. Serves 6.



3 medium potatoes, shredded

2 green onions, chopped

12 oz. (more or less) corned beef, broken into very small chunks

1 egg

Salt and pepper, to taste

¼ cup vegetable oil

1. In a large bowl, mix well all ingredients except the oil. Form the mixture into golf ball sized balls. Heat oil in a skillet over med. heat and add the corned beef balls, a few at a time (don’t crowd), flattening with a spatula when they are in the pan. Fry for about 6-7 min. per side, until crisp and golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels; serve with either sour cream or Greek yogurt on the side, to add a dollop to the patties, if desired.

Margaret Walton can be reached at


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