Why Don’t These Eggs Rot?

I was the last person to leave my house at Cornell for winter break this year. So I had the responsibility of officially checking out and collecting the keys from other residents, turning down the heating system and making sure nothing obviously hazardous is being left out. Of all these potentially hazardous things, rotten food was my main concern. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the first person to return after break had eaten something from the fridge without realizing how old it was.

I scanned our spacious, double doored refrigerator for items with approaching expiration dates. The egg cartons said that they were good for another month, the milk and yoghurt for about two more weeks; oranges we’d bought a week ago looked as pristine as ever and packets of cream cheese didn’t seem to expire at all.The cans of tomatoes in the pantry claimed it would remain edible and safe for two years. I didn’t recall getting a visa to the land of never rotting food.

Perhaps the strangest part was that no product actually mentioned an expiration date. Most of them had the ambiguous “sell by date”. Is it synonymous with “use by date”? Is the producer assuming that the consumer will use the product the day they buy it? Or that once the product has been sold, the producer is no longer responsible for its quality?

When I had to buy milk at home, my mother always instructed me to check that the manufacturing date was the current date. I had been scolded more than once for failing to do so. On rare occasions when the store had not received fresh products, my mother would unwillingly buy a-day old milk. Although we kept our milk refrigerated, it had to be used within 2 or 3 days. The same goes for yoghurt.

In the deluge of health, food and diet related articles in U.S. publications, it is revealed that agriculture and dairy products in America aren’t magical. A high level of processing combined with preservatives and packaging is what allows food to have implausibly extended shelf lives. I’m not sure how this affects the nutrients in my food or my health, but just the thought of vegetables frozen for months or years is discomforting to me. At least I’m glad to be a vegetarian here because vacuum packed meat of animals butchered an indefinite time ago is wildly disconcerting.