You might be surprised to learn that the product-dating routinely found stamped on packaged foods in your local grocery is not required by the feds, or anyone else for that matter, except in the case of infant formulas (it surprised me…). After all, every food processer/manufacturer I know of would lead us to believe that they know exactly when it is time to chuck those leftover salad dressings, eggs or baloney and replace it or them with a new package.
It was the General Brewing Company of San Francisco that was reportedly the first producer of a food product to add an “age date” to its containers. They started doing this way back in 1935, specifically, on their “Lucky Lager” beer bottles, in order to let their customers know that it had been properly aged. Apparently, other brewers were inclined to ship their beer to market before it was ready, thus exposing all those, well, “un” lucky lager consumers to “green beer.” It wasn’t until 1985 that the Boston Beer Company began including a “freshness date” on their Samuel Adams product to make sure it wasn’t too aged. And the rest is marketing history.
I find it interesting how inordinately dependent on manufacturers some people seem to have become to let them know when it’s time to dispense with a supposedly worn out product and buy a new one. How about those Oral B toothbrushes with the blue “indicator” bristles to warn us when we need to replace them? For three dollars. Call me a cynic, but it would seem to me that the Oral B guys could pretty much keep their inventories properly allocated by simply tweaking the chemistry that causes the timing of that change from blue to white. I have a hunch this might be a bunch of baloney, speaking of baloney. (I learned long ago from a real, live dentist that you should change out your toothbrush when the bristles start to fray on the tips, in case you didn’t know.)
As would be expected, the service-lives of various consumer products vary widely. But, in my experience, many seem to have shorter life-spans than similar merchandise manufactured in the past. For example, the last big ol’ tube TV I bought worked perfectly for about sixteen years. When it eventually died on me, I bought a Sony LCD flat screen, for about twice the price, which has continued to operate properly now for over six years—an astonishing life-span, according to my son and Kevin, a young, tech-savvy salesperson at Best Buy, each of whom is accustomed to having his electronic devices go belly up on him before the next iPhone comes out.
Speaking of life-spans, many other things, of course, don’t come with expiration dates either—pets, for example. Although they aren’t normally stamped, I have read that the life expectancy of dogs ranges from six to twenty years, often depending on their size. That is to say, apparently small dogs have longer life spans than big dogs for some reason. I know from personal experience that dogs that refuse to be house-trained live the longest. Or so it seems. Cats apparently run about twelve to fourteen years. Felines that like to spray furniture live the longest. Or so it seems.
And then there are people. Depending on your source, our Olde English friends in the UK reportedly had a life expectancy of only about 35 years in the early 1600s. Life was tough in Colonial America, too, where a person might make it to a rickety old 25. Nobody was worried about their toothbrushes wearing out.
According to a study by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the average life expectancy in the U.S. at the turn of the century was 47, and then, due to vastly improved living conditions, for the most part, zoomed up to 78 by 2010. The Japanese have the longest average life expectancy of 85 years (I wonder if that size business has anything to do with this?). The shortest current life span? Zimabweans at fifty-three.
I, personally, don’t have a designated expiration date. But, as with a certain carton of milk currently stored in my refrigerator, I am beginning to show the telltale signs.