Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Age of The Smell Test

Just the other morning I found myself faced with a potentially life-and-death decision. I will do my best to communicate the conflict despite the fact that, seeing as I am obviously alive to tell the tale, much of the suspense of the moment will be lost.

I had just finished up my oatmeal, prepared the only way I'll eat it: Mixed into chocolate chip cookie batter and baked in the oven, and I was craving a tall glass of ice cold milk. I opened the fridge and pulled out the carton. Judging by how little was left, I figured it had been in there for a while, so I checked the date printed on the side. There are two dates, actually: The "sell by" date and the "use by" date, both of which invariably include the year, as though such a specification were necessary to distinguish between milk that is 3 days old and milk that is 364 days old. In any event, I've always been a stickler on expiration dates, especially on dairy products, so whenever I come across milk that is even past its "sell by" date, I'll either throw out the remaining milk and open a new carton or I'll pour it into Matthew's glass because he never knows the difference anyway. But this morning was a turning point. Just six days prior I had implemented a new family budget which included significant cuts in the grocery department. Every dollar would be accounted for. Every receipt would be analyzed. Something had to give.

I read the date, looked at the calendar, and did the math. Three days. Not past sell by. Past use by. I was practically holding a carton of toxic waste. Fighting back the urge to deposit it directly into the outdoor trash can and despite the fact that there was a brand-new container, pristine and unopened, sitting in the fridge, in the interest of frugality I emptied the substance into my glass. I stared at the milk, waiting for something to happen. Bubbles, floating chunks, perhaps melting glass. Nothing. It just sat there, perfectly nonchalant about being three days expired. I was not convinced. Eyeing it suspiciously, I slowly leaned forward to perform “The Smell Test”. The Smell Test ruled in my house growing up. If something was questionable, my mom or dad would simply give it a good whiff to see if it smelled "bad". I always wondered what it would have to smell like for my parents to deem it "bad". Garbage? Feet? Dorito-breath? I don't know that there was ever a set rule since my parents still can't agree on how long eggs are safe. Mom says two weeks past the sell by. Dad seems to think that as long as no baby chickens are hatching in the refrigerator, they're good to go.

I gave my milk a cautious sniff. No garbage, no feet. I took a small sip. It tasted fine. Refreshing, even. With a sense of liberation I threw the empty carton into the trash, scoffing at its melodramatic scare tactics. They would phase me no longer. It was the end of an era. The ushering in of the Age of The Smell Test.


cjs said...

I continue to really enjoy your blogs. Kristie, would it be OK if I printed some of your "essays" off to share with my students? I think the one today (milk) is especially appropriate--really shows great voice. I also share your recipe for successful oatmeal eating! Mine don't have to have chocolate chips--just cookie dough! We'll have to take you guys to dinner when we're down their the end of the month--I'm sure you'll be overspent on your food budget by the last week of March!

daniellechandler said...


i always wondered what the guidlelines were for the smell test as well. i'm comforted that i wasn't the only one who had no idea.

have a great day!

Samantha Johnson said...

You are too cute! I am just like you; I figure they put a date on food for a purpose...right? I suppose that might change once Isaac and I have implemented our own grocery budget, I'll need your help with smell testing... Have a wonderful day!!

Rusty said...

I do that! I swear, whenever the exp date gets close, I always always smell the milk.

I have tasted a mouthfull of rotten milk btw, it is g-ross. So gross in fact, that I poured myself another glass from a new carton and enjoyed that creamy white goodness =). So I don't blame you for being weirded out at the possibliity of bad milk.

grandpa b said...

Now you're into a subject area in which I am a true expert. Neither the dates nor the smell taste are appropriate for determining consumability. The real test is whether, when you've poured the milk on your cereal, all the cats run into the other room due to the sour smell. If any of them remain within 20 feet of the bowl, the milk is fine.

Seriously, I laughed out loud at your alternative approach, i.e. pour the remainder of the jug into Matthew's glass. I never was able to get away with that when he lived with me. Perhaps it is different when the new jug comes out of his budget, instead of mine :)

Another great blog, young lady!

Grandpa B

P.S. Given the struggles you've been through this week, I appreciate your good humor even more.

Heather said...

Ok so Kristie, when are you going to begin stand-up. You are really, really funny and I love to see what you will write. Must be interesting being you ")

Heather said...

I am very easily amused but literally the second I clicked off you blog I checked my email and look at what I got.
Living Better Newsletter | Week of February 26

Dear Member,
Do food expiration dates really matter? If smelling the milk
doesn't make you gag, it's OK to drink, right? Actually, the
approved method of checking for freshness lies in a voluntary
system of labeling. Yes, voluntary!

There was actually a link and the title was something like do food experation dates really matter. I think I will foreward it too you. God really knows how to make me laugh (I state as I am rolling across the floor).

Brent Klontz said...

It's always okay to put the past due milk into a milk shake . . . you can't even tell. However, just trying to drink it in a glass makes me queesy. Even if it is good, I think I psyche myself into believing it will taste disgusting.

mom said...

I just have got to stop reading your blogs at work. I disrupt the office serenity when I do. You"re right about the egg dates. Whenever dad says he's going to make egg fu yung I run to the fridge to make sure there isn't dust on the egg carton. I think the smell test works best for those of us that have been around for many decades practicing. Mom

Andie said...

Has Matthew read this?