Past my best-be­fore date but not quite on the nose

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - UPFRONT - mary-rosemac­ mary-rose maccoll

Iwent to use a sun­screen I hadn't used for

D ZKLOH WKLV ZHHN DQG ¿UVW FKHFNHG WKH ex­piry date which, I dis­cov­ered, passed in 2012. We bought the sun­screen in Canada in 2010 and I like the smell, which re­minds me of that trip. I also like an Aus­tralian sun­screen, a tacky zinc-based one that at­tracts sand like glue at­tracts sparkles, be­cause the smell makes me

WKLQN RI WKH EHDFK ZKHUH ZH KROLGD\ DQG , ¿JXUH some­thing that greasy must be do­ing its job. When I saw the date on the Cana­dian sun­screen I checked the Aus­tralian one. It ex­pired in 2009. I'll have to throw both sun­screens away, I sup­pose.

This led me to ex­is­ten­tial ques­tions. Since use-by dates be­came ubiq­ui­tous in the 1980s, there have been only two kinds of people in the world: those who fol­low them slav­ishly, and those who ig­nore them. I was an ig­norer who mar­ried a use-by-date nut and so we've had to com­pro­mise, or I've had to com­pro­mise, be­cause on use-by dates my hus­band is not his gen­tle self. It's true I do not like waste. I will con­jure a week's meals around a left­over half a cab­bage (cab­bage be­ing a thing I par­tic­u­larly hate to throw away). My at­ti­tude to tomato paste, which seems to grow a beard of mould in a mat­ter of hours, is that if you can scrape the mould off and see red, you can use the paste. Cheese also can be re­sus­ci­tated us­ing this method.

My hus­band calls many of the cher­ished things I store in the re­frig­er­a­tor sci­ence ex­per­i­ments. It's not worth it, he will say, if I sug­gest the fresh-smelling chicken breast whose ex­piry date was yes­ter­day (well, ac­tu­ally, the chicken ex­pired some time ago so it's an af­ter­life we're speak­ing of) will be okay for din­ner. He tells me the money to re­place the chicken wouldn't buy the Imod­ium to solve the prob­lem it will cre­ate.

Aus­tralia's food stan­dards re­quire pack­aged foods to be marked with a “best be­fore” or “use by” date (with “baked on” or “baked for” ac­cept­able on baked goods). The “best be­fore” date is sup­posed to mark the “end of the pe­riod in which the pack­age of food will re­tain any

VSHFL¿F TXDOLWLHV IRU ZKLFK FODLPV KDYH EHHQ made”. The “use-by” date is the date be­yond which the “pack­age of food should not be con­sumed for health and safety rea­sons”.

From this point of view, my hus­band is right. When you take these dates with a grain of (pre­serv­ing) salt, you are play­ing with your own use-by date. Sun­screens are also listed in the Aus­tralian Reg­is­ter of Ther­a­peu­tic Goods. They must have an “ex­piry” date that's three years from man­u­fac­ture. If you ig­nore the ex­piry date, it may not bring for­ward your own ex­piry but the sun­screen may not do the job it's sup­posed to do.

Ad­ver­tis­ing the life of foods and other per­ish­able items might have be­come nec­es­sary as we moved fur­ther away from the farm, but in the de­vel­oped world we now throw out al­most as much as we con­sume. Even our in­stant noo­dles have a use-by date, I dis­cov­ered. Is there any­thing or­ganic, let alone per­ish­able, in them? To use-by-date nuts like my hus­band I of­ten say, “fresh milk”, be­cause fresh milk is the prod­uct that best usurps a use-by uni­lat­er­al­ity. Milk has a use-by date, of course it does, and when we use our noses we know what it is. But there are too many vari­ables be­tween the cow and the kitchen bench to name that date ahead of time. If you went with the date that's on the car­ton, you'd be drink­ing some sour milk and throw­ing out plenty of fresh.

The Bud­dhists tell us that we will only be at peace when we face our own im­per­ma­nence, our own ex­piry dates. We spend our time scratch­ing in the dirt of life to leave our mark, to make our­selves im­mor­tal, miss­ing mean­while the trees and bird­song and gen­tle rain (and per­fectly ac­cept­able food) that are that life.

I've never been any good at Bud­dhism. Maybe that's why I pre­fer to ig­nore use-by dates, most es­pe­cially my own.

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