When Is the Actual Expiration Date On Your Milk?

Getty Images/Stephen Chernin
Getty Images/Stephen Chernin

Confusion stemming from the date printed on the packages of food and when to actually dispose of it is a serious problem in the United States: Reportedly, around 90 percent of Americans throw out food prematurely. Despite this, and the efforts of consumer groups and processors in the 1970s and '80s, the federal government doesn't regulate dates on any food, or drink, outside of infant formula. Twenty states do have some rules with dating for milk products, but they're all slightly different.

So what chance do you have when you're staring at your week-old milk in the fridge? A really good one, in terms of survival: If you drink clearly sour and expired milk, you might get sick, but it's unlikely that you'll die. That date on the carton of milk, however, could mean very different things depending on what state you’re in. Some states require a sell by date, which indicates the last day a store can legally sell the milk; it's calculated to give the home consumer a reasonable amount of time to enjoy. Other states have a use by date that’s for consumers—it indicates the date that the milk is believed to be at peak flavor. So while milk cartons in Montana are labelled with a sell by date 12 days after pasteurization, nearby Washington requires a use by date that’s 21 days after pasteurization. Confused?

While the pasteurization of milk kills most of the harmful bacteria, precautions always need to be made by the consumer to keep the milk from going bad. It's mostly obvious stuff: Don't leave the milk out on the counter for a long time; don't expose it to light that can make it can lose its vitamins; and close the carton when you're done to prevent the absorption of flavors from other foods in your refrigerator. Another way to keep milk as fresh as possible is to always keep it on a shelf—never in the inside of the door of your fridge, where the temperature fluctuates the most. Depending on who you ask, the fridge temperature should be 34-38 °F or 38-40 °F. Warmer temperatures give bacteria more of a chance to develop. You could theoretically freeze your milk for up to three months, but it'll turn lumpy and yellow and yucky looking (though it's still safe to drink).

The accepted rule of thumb is that if you're properly refrigerating it, your carton of whole milk's expiration date is five days after the "sell-by" date. If it's "non-fat," "skim," or "reduced fat," you’ll have a little less time, and no one is quite sure why (although it seems that whole milk tends to go sour while skim milk tends to go bitter). "Ultra pasteurized" milk has a longer shelf life than other types of milk. If you happen to be particularly young, old, or, as Drew Harris, the chair of the New Jersey Public Health Institute put it, "immunocompromised," you should maybe cut a day or two from those estimations and proceed with more caution.

A Shrine to Brine: The Mysterious Case of Missouri's Highway Pickle Jar

iStock.com/MorePixels
iStock.com/MorePixels

No one knows how it started. No one knows who was responsible. Some may even have dismissed it as an aberration, a glitch in the scenery that would soon be corrected. But eventually, drivers in and around Des Peres, Missouri who took a highway off-ramp connecting I-270 North to Manchester Road began to notice that a jar of pickles was sitting on a dividing barrier on the ramp. And it wasn’t going anywhere.

Since 2012, the pickle jar has confounded drivers and internet sleuths alike, according to Atlas Obscura. Some have speculated that someone was trying to send a secret message or share a private joke. Perhaps someone pulling off to the side due to car trouble felt the need to place the brine-filled jar on the concrete wall and then forgot about it. Maybe someone thought it would be a kind of three-dimensional graffiti, incongruous amid the bustling traffic. Maybe it’s an indictment of commerce.

Whatever the case, once the pickles appeared, advocates refused to let them go. Jars that end up toppled over or otherwise damaged are replaced. Sometimes they reappear in protective Tupperware or with a holiday-themed bow. Sightings are photographed for posterity and posted on a Facebook fan page devoted to the jar, which currently has over 4200 members and has morphed from a place to theorize about the mysterious jar's origins to a place where people swap pickle-related recipes and stories.

There are dry spells—no one has posted of a pickle sighting in several months—but followers remain optimistic the jar will continue to remain a presence in Des Peres even if the motivation for placing them near the roadway remains as murky as the briny juice inside.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

Why the Filet-O-Fish Sandwich Has Been on the McDonald's Menu for Nearly 60 Years

McDonald's has introduced and quietly killed many dishes over the years (remember McDonald's pizza?), but there's a core group of items that have held their spot on the menu for decades. Listed alongside the Big Mac and McNuggets is the Filet-O-Fish—a McDonald's staple you may have forgotten about if you're not the type of person who orders seafood from fast food restaurants. But the classic sandwich, consisting of a fried fish filet, tartar sauce, and American cheese on a bun, didn't get on the menu by mistake—and thanks to its popularity around Lent, it's likely to stick around.

According to Taste of Home, the inception of the Filet-O-Fish can be traced back to a McDonald's franchise that opened near Cincinnati, Ohio in 1959. Back then the restaurant offered beef burgers as its only main dish, and for most of the year, diners couldn't get enough of them. Things changed during Lent: Many Catholics abstain from eating meat and poultry on Fridays during the holy season as a form of fasting, and in the early 1960s, Cincinnati was more than 85 percent Catholic. Fridays are supposed to be one of the busiest days of the week for restaurants, but sales at the Ohio McDonald's took a nosedive every Friday leading up to Easter.

Franchise owner Lou Groen went to McDonald's founder Ray Kroc with the plan of adding a meat alternative to the menu to lure back Catholic customers. He proposed a fried halibut sandwich with tartar sauce (though meat is off-limits for Catholics on Fridays during Lent, seafood doesn't count as meat). Kroc didn't love the idea, citing his fears of stores smelling like fish, and suggested a "Hula Burger" made from a pineapple slice with cheese instead. To decide which item would earn a permanent place on the menu, they put the two sandwiches head to head at Groen's McDonald's one Friday during Lent.

The restaurant sold 350 Filet-O-Fish sandwiches that day—clearly beating the Hula Burger (though exactly how many pineapple burgers sold, Kroc wouldn't say). The basic recipe has received a few tweaks, switching from halibut to the cheaper cod and from cod to the more sustainable Alaskan pollock, but the Filet-O-Fish has remained part of the McDonald's lineup in some form ever since. Today 300 million of the sandwiches are sold annually, and about a quarter of those sales are made during Lent.

Other seafood products McDonald's has introduced haven't had the same staying power as the Filet-O-Fish. In 2013, the chain rolled out Fish McBites, a chickenless take on McNuggets, only to pull them from menus that same year.

[h/t Taste of Home]

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