COLUMN: It’s best to read those labels before you buy

I have an aversion to washing dishes – not that I don’t like them clean, I simply find the task of scrubbing them by hand distasteful.

I have an aversion to washing dishes – not that I don’t like them clean, I simply find the task of scrubbing them by hand distasteful.

That is one of the reasons I often take a guy like Kevin the Car Salesman with me when I venture into the northern woods. I cook, he cleans.

So without the services of a camp flunky (though far be it from me to ever describe him that way) when occasionally I’m forced to feed myself at home, I often drop by the deli section of the local supermarket and pick up a couple of packages of cole slaw and potato salad.

Chuck a steak on the barbie, spoon the goop out of the containers and, upon consumption of said meal, the plate and utensils go in the dishwasher, the remains of the salads into the fridge.

No fuss, no muss and virtually no cleanup.

My kind of cooking!

However, recently after undertaking such a project, and on putting the products away, I happened to notice the “Packed On” dates stamped on the salad’s container labels – one was seven days old, the other 13!

Now I don’t know how long stuff like potato salad can sit in a deli cooler, and still be good, but 13 days has to be stretching it.

Homemade stuff, I’ve been led to believe, has a much shorter shelf life, with all manner of admonitions being remembered about what can happen when eggs and mayo and other ingredients ‘grow together’ within the mosaic of mushed spuds.

In other words, eat it fresh or risk the threat of botulism.

So there I stood, digesting a nice steak, wondering if the rest of my evening was to be spent sitting in front of the TV, or sitting on ‘the throne.’

Fortunately, no ill effects resulted from my consumption, though I did relish a rant on the product care of supermarket sales, when the usual provider of things culinary arrived home.

“Don’t you look at the labels and dates before you buy them?” was all she sniffed.

Well no, was my innocent reply, why would I? I’d expect the market to ensure stuff was fresh.

Thus I won’t be buying any more “fresh” stuff from the store that produced these salads, despite believing that if a complaint was lodged, there would probably be an offer of reimbursement and a blushing apology.

Thanks, but too late.

Lesson learned. From now on my foraging forays will include checking “best before” and “packed on” dates on products that are purportedly sold as “fresh.”

But I have to wonder why that would be necessary. To preserve their customer base, shouldn’t supermarkets take it upon themselves to discard products that have a limited shelf life once they have passed a certain date?

I will also be following closely the diligence with which Kevin, if he ever again chooses to accompany me to the Cariboo, scrubs the camp pots.

It’s one thing to face the possibility of spending considerable time in my residential bathroom, quite another to do so, especially during mosquito season, in an old and decidedly rustic outhouse which has long passed its best-before date.

markrushton@abbynews.com