Best-by dates

Best-by dates might matter when shopping at the grocery store, but when it comes to the refrigerator and cabinets, they don't necessarily need to be followed precisely.

METRO CREATIVE

Wisconsinites are known to be frugal and we all have been taught not to waste. It is un-American to waste. Throwing out perfectly good food seems close to a sin.

Kitchen utensils, storage containers and even plastic bags all have future uses, so pitching them also seems a crime. “Best by” dates are there for suggestion, not written in stone, unless it is bread that has turned to stone.

When my sister from Michigan would visit our mother, she would attack mom’s cupboards and refrigerator like some self-appointed expiration date general. Before mom could make a case for the sticky ketchup and mustard packets from fast food restaurants, they were in the garbage. Having no idea when these condiments were packaged, the corroded soy and discolored sweet-sour sauce hit the trash.

Mayo, hot sauce and bottled salad dressings all were wasted by a by-the-book inspector. My role in all this was to be empathetic, knowing full well my own refrigerator has use-by stamps that correspond with the Downton Abbey finale. I also had to be my sister’s backup and say things like “buy smaller containers” and “you can afford a new jar of pickles; these are from the ’90s.”

Food is not alone in the expulsion and cleansing, so every now and then, it is time to review what to throw out and why. Used sponges come to mind. All those little holes are a breeding ground for bacteria and rather than boil them or microwave them for a few more uses, just toss them. They are not even recommended for a Pinterest project.

As for the storage containers and plastic bags, both are good for recycling. If the containers are warped or freezer burned, and if the bags have been used for food, just get rid of them.

Chipped bowls and cups might include your favorite pattern, but the cuts on your lips and the lead paint in your tea should be enough of a deterrent. Rusty canning jar lids, cracked pottery and burned pot holders serve no purpose but to remind you of accidents and inattentive cooking. Remove them.

Spatulas might be only a little melted and the wire wisp might only have a few of the prongs missing, but you probably never used those anyway. My mom wasn’t the only one with a drawer full of these items — every kitchen seems to have a built-in drawer of useless utensils waiting for ridicule from offspring.

Larger items can go, too. That yogurt machine, the quesadilla maker and the juicer last used in 2001 can be donated to charity. We don’t need to pretend we are going to use those next Sunday.

Spices seem to be the main culprit for needing exile, with dates on them that share the waterbed blowout sale. They lose their flavor, color and smell. If they clump, it’s time to dump. When herbs turn gray, that should be a tip-off. The only gray consumable you should hang on to is Grey Goose. Unlike fine wine and aged cheddar, herbs do not improve with age.

Mystery foods in the freezer do not make a good goulash, contrary to what some of us might have been taught. Label foods, date them and rotate through more often than you power-wash your deck. Coffee goes bad. It just does. We can ignore that fact, or use the beans or grounds in the compost, but it is not drinkable. Oh no — I am sounding like my sister.

It might have been a good year in 2012 for garlic stuffed olives, but it doesn’t mean they can be on your hors d’oeuvre plate this month.

Having said all this, how do we know it isn’t just a marketing scheme to keep us buying more? I am not going to waste a perfectly good bag of tortilla chips just because of some arbitrary best-by date of Aug. 29.

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at kaystellpflug@gmail.com.