It’s interesting. Over the last year and a half, I have taken a lot of flack because I had the audacity to encourage folks to use their food items well past the expiration date and have also advocated bottling your own butter. “You’re going to be responsible for killing people!” one woman wrote. “Who do you think you are?” said another. Well, folks, I still stand by my outlandish practice of ignoring expiration dates on food, and I don’t plan on dying from bottled butter either. But I did get a bit of satisfaction recently when one of the lame-stream media dared to support my position—albeit softly.
Expiration Dates Exposed
To bring everyone up to speed, I’ve always taught that folks need not waste hard-earned money by throwing out foods simply because some corporate attorney required a specific date to be stamped on your packaging. May I remind you that these expiration dates have nothing to do with your health, the bacterial content of a food, or even taste. They are dictated by attorneys in order to prevent any unpleasant legal liability on the manufacturer. In fact, as noted also in the mainstream media article, the USDA has NO regulations requiring the use of expiration dates. Believe me, the only reason why manufacturers go to the expense of printing them, even though it’s not required, is to avoid an even bigger expense in the event something goes wrong. Seriously. I can’t stress enough that there isn’t any legal contract or dire warning associated with that little spot of ink on your food products.
I’ve received a particular e-mail several times over the last year which warns people about using baking mixes past their expiration date. The e-mail details a near-deadly incident that a person had, which they amateurishly accredited to rancid oils in their baking mixes. This too, folks, is just a bunch of hooey. Even if this story were true, the scientific conclusion that the writer comes to would be just as logical as saying that spoons cause obesity. Believe you me, if such a liability were realistic, then you can bet that the FDA and the USDA would have their say-so about mandatory package warnings. I have long used cake mixes, pancake mixes, and Bisquick well past their respective expiration dates—by as much as 5 years even. It’s all in how you preserve such items—in a cool, dry, place—that determines any chemical reactions which may occur. You’ve no doubt heard the saying “the nose knows”? Well, it does. If it smells foul, then don’t use it. I assure you that rancid oil will be significantly more noticeable than the tiny font used for announcing expiration dates. (Understand there is a difference between a foul smell and a stale smell. When something smells stale or “tin-ish” you can usually rectify the problem by spreading it out on a parchment lined cookie sheet and aerating it for a couple of hours. --see more info on expiration dates here)
The skinny on Butter and Expiration Dates
Now, let’s get down to butter. I think that my bottled butter and my cheese waxing articles are the two which have spawned the greatest amount of nasty-mail. Folks have been convinced that they can’t suitably boil and preserve the butter in order to prevent bacteria growth. Ok. Let’s look at this one more time, shall we?
First of all, let’s see what the USDA has to say about the preservation of butter. Perhaps initially seeing their recommendations, you may realize that they are a bit overboard in their caution. First of all, they recommend that you keep the butter in it’s original container. That’s right. So all of you who dare to transfer your butter into a dish that’s more aesthetically appealing—shame on you. Next, they prefer that you freeze any butter that you’re not going to use within 2 to 3 days. They also recommend that you keep the butter in the refrigerator-but to take it out every time you want to use it and let it get to room temperature for about 15 to 20 minutes. Geesh. The USDA is starting to sound like the Pharisees and Sadducees if you ask me.
Now let’s look at the reality here—and I’ve said it a bazillion times. Unless you’re introducing more bacteria, insects, and mold into your butter when you bottle it, you’re not likely to have it just develop. The reason being is because most butter is made with pasteurized milk. Pasteurized, as in stripped of all of its live nutrition (that’s another story). Not to mention the fact that butter usually has salt in it as well as a low water content—which also makes it difficult for bacteria development. As such, you’d have to work pretty darn hard to introduce bacteria into your butter when you heat it through, place it in sterilized jars, and then seal it—all with clean hands. But sure. I suppose you could develop bacteria in your butter while bottling it—if you repeatedly sneezed in the melted gold, as well as some other gross hygiene habits that I simply can’t mention here. Sure our forefathers died younger than we do today, but I know for certain that it wasn’t because of their butter. Many U.S. farmers will attest that the only time they put their butter in a refrigerator is during a hot and humid summer—but that’s because they didn't have a central cooling system. The French, which have a cooler climate than we do in the U.S., are notorious for not putting their eggs, cheese, and butter in refrigeration. (I mean really. It’s not like hens only lay eggs when it’s cold enough to preserve them, right?) Again, remember, that the nose knows! While you may not be bottling butter any time soon, know that the butter that’s on your countertop is not going to cause the Department of Social Services to come and take your kids from you because of child endangerment. (At least not yet..again, another story) Just keep it covered and away from heat and light and you’ll be fine.
So why is the USDA so ridiculous in their guidelines and committed to remain so? I'll tell you what my rule of thumb is. Anytime I see my government do something that makes no sense, I realize that it's usually about money and/or power. In this case, in my opinion, it's about both. If the USDA is wrong, then that means that all of the money we pay in taxes to support them is wrongfully allocated, right? If they are inept, then it lessens their political and financial influence. Bottom line, it just wouldn’t look too good for them to be discovered as a bunch of ninnies. Anything that can bring me independence and put me in a position to thrive in most circumstances rather than stress, I’m all for it. And frankly, bottled butter and using packaged baked items when I’m good and ready, does exactly that.
To see the butter article I was referring to, click here
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