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October 30, 2012

Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
The end of October in 2012.

Did I really spray-paint cow pies gold and place them alongside the road?
Yes. Nine small calf muffins.
Another one went to a neighbor lady who asked to have it – to give as a birthday present.
Her sister always claims she already has “everything . . .”
Not yet.
And a golden meadow muffin will soon be on its way to Denver.
Furthermore, there were 8 muffins out there yesterday.
This afternoon they were all gone. . .
Go figure.


Respond to the following statements with agree or disagree.

1. You shouldn’t eat any food after it’s dropped on the floor.
2. You shouldn’t eat any food with mold on it.
3. And you shouldn’t eat any food after the Use-By date posted on it.

These are common household rules, usually enforced by mothers.
Rules that often provoke domestic controversy.
Don’t eat that!
But daddy does.

The rules are mother-myths.

Most people’s response to the questionnaire will be muddled.
Well . . . it all depends . . . on what it is . . . and who is around.

Well, yes.
A glob of macaroni-and-cheese is not the same as a fresh-baked cookie.

The dropped-food rule has a corollary - the Five-Second Rule.
Which says if you pick it up before you can count to five, the food is OK.
Moreover, if you are alone, the only real rule for quick timing is to pick it up and eat it before the dog beats you to it.

This rule has been scientifically tested, with somewhat mixed results.
But the Five Second Rule has also been field-tested by most of us who have eaten dropped food most of our lives and lived on.
While you might not pick up and eat a dropped cookie while you are guest at someone else’s dinner party, if you are alone at home and the cookie gets dropped . . . and the dog is slow . . . it’s still a good cookie.

As to the mold rule, the green-and-blue stuff is blooming spores.
And it’s actually quite beautiful, if you are open-minded about it.
Besides, it’s just fungus – a form of mushrooms – no big deal.
In the case of cheese and bread the roots of the mold spores are in there already – the existence of the bread and the cheese depends on yeast spores.
You eat mold all the time in cheese and other food – you just can’t see it.

So most of us, when alone, scrape off the mold or cut away the green-and-blue stuff and eat the bread or the cheese.
This, too, has been field tested forever.

Ah, but what about the Use-By date?
Most packaged food has a calendar reference on it.
Use-By, Sell-By, Best-Before, Expiration-Date are most common.

There are those who take the date seriously and literally, as if it was illegal or unhealthy to consume food beyond the date on the package.
Because you will get sick or die if you do.

In fact, it’s just fine to exceed the Use-By date.

I have done my homework.
And will summarize my research:

The truth is that the Use-By date is not mandated by the FDA except in the case of baby formula and some prescription drugs.
The dating is not about food safety.
The dates are a marketing function – a reference from the manufacturer for the use of the retail seller – just to keep the products moving.
Nothing bad will happen if you exceed the Use-By date.
You will not die.
You will not be arrested by the food police.

Judging the reliability of food is a matter of common sense and sensibility.
Your intelligence, eyes, nose, and taste buds are the best guides.

The Use-By date is only a concept – a working hypothesis.

(There’s an unintended consequence of this labeling, by the way.
A lot of food beyond the Use-By date gets contributed to Food Banks.
Think about the times you have triaged your cupboard, found cans of odds and ends that have been there forever, and you noted the Use-By date, and put the cans in a bag to take to the Food Bank in the name of charity.
Oh, look, a five-year old can of imported artichoke hearts . . . Food Bank.

As if passing dangerous food on to the needy, the poor, and the homeless was a virtuous thing to do.
It’s OK if they get sick and die . . .)

* * *

All this made me wonder . . . .
What is my own Use-By date?
When am I Best-Before, and what is my Expiration Date?

That’s not weird wondering.
Think of how much is wired into our DNA from the beginning.
Take something simple and obvious - hair for example - pattern on the head, density, color, change to grey or white, baldness or not . . .
All in the genetic code in the first cell, so says science.
A predictor of your Best-Before date.

Or consider susceptible weakness in the direction of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and all the physical flaws that are in the code, as well.
If your parents had it, they probably passed it on to you.
And it affects your Use-By date.

It’s interesting to consider the mortality tables employed by insurance companies, mortgage lenders, and health care providers.
They are in the organized gambling business and will bet you big money on how long you are going to live.
Given enough information they can provide you with your Use-By date.

The rule of thumb is that the longer you have lived in reasonably good health, the longer you probably will live.

Assuming you don’t get hit by a bus, get bit in a fight with a rabid dog over a cookie, or get in the way of a bullet, or meet with any of the other accidental terminations to life, then you have an age-expectancy prognostication.
It’s your Use-By date.

There are several questionnaires readily available on the web.
I filled in the blanks on five of them.
I’m 75, from healthy stock.
Normal blood pressure.
No heart trouble . . . . except that associated with love.
Even being slothful, I’m in pretty good shape.
And I’ve eaten a lot of food off the floor in my time.

When all the statistics were churned, my Use-By date is calculated to be somewhere around 90 years of age, plus or minus 3 years, depending on whether or not I lied about my weight and dietary habits.

(When I gave the news to my sweet wife, she just lifted her eyebrows.
Whether in surprise, dismay or delight, I could not tell, and did not ask.)

My Use-By date is somewhere around 5,000 days away.
How about you?

Every day matters.
If the cookie drops to the floor, go for it.