Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste


Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Expiration Dates

January 26, 2014

From 10/22/11


“Haven’t I told you to stop doing that?” my wife growled while scowling at me from a barstool on the far side of the kitchen counter.


“Yes, you’ve told me to stop doing it.”


“How long would you say I’ve been asking you not to do it?”


I gave it some thought. “About forty years.”


Her lips tightened into a line. “You really are a slow learner.”


Mrs. Chatterbox and I are usually sympatico—Tweedledee and Tweedledum joined together at the hip—but on this we’re worlds apart, hostiles on opposite sides of the Neutral Zone. My blood sugar was dropping and I wasn’t in the mood for battle. I chose my words carefully. “I’d think that after forty years you’d catch on that no matter how much you nag me I’m going to sniff the milk in the fridge before I pour it on my cereal.”


“It disgusts me to see you sniffing the milk carton.”


I considered listing a few things she does that disgust me, but decided it best to keep those worms in the can. Besides, that was a battle I couldn’t hope to win—I have quite a few disgusting habits. “I don’t want to pour sour milk on my cereal and have to pour it all down the garbage disposal. I hate the taste of sour milk.”


She sighed the sigh only the wife of a truly stubborn man can sigh. “Just check the expiration date.”


This was the battle cry that had launched our Forty Year War; it had little to do with me sniffing the milk carton and everything to do with her desire to convert me to her philosophy of expiration dates. She rose from the barstool and walked over to the fridge, where I’d returned the sniffed milk after deeming it worthy of my cereal. She checked the date on the carton. “This expired yesterday,” she said smugly. “That’s why I bought a fresh carton yesterday at the store.”


“If you didn’t want me sniffing the milk, you could have thrown it out yesterday when you brought home the new.”


She spoke slowly, as if explaining God to a toddler. “Yesterday, Sweetie, the date hadn’t yet expired.”


I hadn’t seen the new carton because, like most guys, I suffer from refrigerator blindness; only humans with uteri can find things in the fridge. It’s a scientific fact that uteri function like tracking devices, making it easier for women to find things. Not that I would have chosen the new carton had I been able to locate it lurking behind the pulpless orange juice. I would have chosen the old one because I don’t believe in expiration dates. Why throw out perfectly good milk just because of a number stamped on the carton? I sniffed the milk and it was fine. A cow gave its all for this milk and I wasn’t going to pour it down the drain until it plopped out of the carton in congealed,  semi-solid form.


For years we’d gone round and round on this business of expiration dates. I’m of the opinion that the date alerts supermarket personnel that the product shouldn’t be sold after this date; Mrs. Chatterbox believes it shouldn’t be consumed after this date.


Several times I’ve asked store employees to weigh in on this. They should know, right? They always side with me. But this isn’t good enough for Mrs. C., who I suspect has climbed out of bed to toss out groceries whose dates expired at midnight. It’s a good thing there isn’t an expiration date on our wedding license or I could now be reeking of curdled milk while living in a Dumpster.




So how does it work in your family: does the product expiration date mean the store should no longer be selling the item, or does it mean it’s no longer safe to consume it?





SM says at Casa de Cuckoo, food never lasts that long here. But he does agree that that is the last date it can legally be sold by the supermarket. I agree as well. As to uteri, SM says that his limitations extend far beyond the refrigerator as to lack of sight. I agree with him. You know what they say about if it was a snake it would have bit you? Well, plain sight is always the best hiding place at our house. Oma Linda
By: Oma Linda on January 26, 2014
i often find myself using milk 1 week after its expiration date. just last week, two days in a row i thought my coffee tasted 'off'. yup, milk just souring...
By: TexWisGirl on January 26, 2014
I have a very sensitive nose and can smell the bouquet of milk that will soon go sour. Occasionally, milk sours before the expiration date. Most of the time, the milk is fine for a few days after the expiration date. Mrs. C. would find me disgusting because I always smell the milk. I smell other things, too. I'm not sure why Mrs. C. is disgusted by you sniffing the milk. You don't blow your nose in it, do you? If you would like to try out an Any Sniffing Allowed Zone, feel free to make a quick trip to Florida to find out what it's like to sniff all you want. I get the bed; you get the couch. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on January 26, 2014
This is such a common story, played out in so many marriages. I am of the believe that the dated stamp is more a 'suggestion'. I had heard that it was only there as a safegaurd for grocery stores, that it was marked 'best by' so they are protected from being sued by someone claiming to have gotten botulism from a package of food past its prime. I take it for what it says 'BEST BY' meaning, it is still okay (proceed with caution) after the date, but in its freshest state before. I am a bit more brave in my testing of the product however, I will pour a small amount in a glass, sniff and sip to see if it is still okay. The Hubs swears by the date and will not touch it after it has 'expired'.
By: Carrie on January 26, 2014
I agree with Carrie, the "date" is just a suggestion. Only the smell can tell for sure. If milk is left open it sours well before the suggestion date. Women know where everything is in the fridge because they put the stuff away... ask Mrs. C to go to your work bench (ok, just say you have one) and find the small phippips head screwdriver. Oh and when anyone asks me, "does this smell ok" I throw it away without even taking a whiff. If you need to ask, it is not ok.
By: Cranky on January 26, 2014
Milk disappears too fast in my house to have a smell test. My wife does throw things away after the date.
By: David Walston on January 26, 2014
I can't smell so I'm pretty much at the mercy of the date. But then I don't buy milk much.
By: PT Dilloway on January 26, 2014
Back in the day,, my dairy farmer grandfather and grandmother had a use for milk that went sour. If you google clabber, you can see what it is. I could never bring myself to try it.
By: Shelly on January 26, 2014
I understand sell by and use by are two different animals. Truthfully, when in doubt sniff. Cracked up at the idea of uteri tracking devices.
By: Akansas Patti on January 26, 2014
Expiration dates only mean something to me when I buy it- from then on after the milk has been opened and in the fridge for a bit over a week will I even think about sniffing it.....but I do sniff when it approaches THE DATE...but even after it has expired I will not toss it UNLESS it stinks! And yes- when Russell cannot find an item in the fridge I do ask him to "put on his woman eyes" hahah Have a great evening!
By: Kathe W. on January 26, 2014
There are Federal guidelines that regulate this. There are expiration/use by dates, after which things shouldn't be consumed, best by dates that mean it wouldn't kill you after that, but it may not be so fresh, and sell by dates, meaning the product has to stay fresh for 7 days after that date, so you can buy it on that day and still use it. Milk carton dates are sell by dates. The milk must still be fresh long enough for you to use it if you buy it on the sell by date.
By: mimi on January 26, 2014
Around here, only one of us reads the expiration dates. The other will feast on whatever strikes his fancy, whether it be chicken bread (the expired loaf that is put in a designated area of the kitchen counter to toss to the chickens), or bologna that was opened a month ago and left for dead. Oh, and if the date-ignorer discovers some bad foodstuffs--he leaves them right where he found them, and does not tell the refrigerator-cleaner-outer of his find.
By: Val on January 26, 2014
I draw the line at buying a best before that is passed. I will carefully use best before dates that are passed. No big arguments here.
By: red on January 26, 2014
Another sniffer here. I hate to waste coffee due to sour milk. I bought deodorant/antiperspirant once and noticed it had an expiration date on it. It said: "Exp. date: 04/21/2138." I didn't know what to think about that.
By: Pixel Peeper on January 26, 2014
I am with you on this one Stephen. If in doubt sniff first. Expiration dates are there to ensure good food or milk is wasted.
By: John on January 27, 2014
Your wife is going to love that new store that plans on buying expired products from all other stores and sell them to those people who have trouble making ends meet!! Milk CAN go sour before the expiration date if not handled properly.
By: Tabor on January 27, 2014
There are "sell by" dates that mean they will be at the height of their flavor and freshness, but not that they are necessarily bad. I say go with the smell test.
By: Scott Cody Park on January 27, 2014
CVS fired my friend who had worked for them for five years because they found a carton of milk in the fridge that had two days to go before its expiration date. He said, "they are savage about expiration dates and if you aren't on top of them, out you go."
By: Michael Offutt on January 27, 2014
I am firmly in the "it's more of a suggestion" camp when it comes to expiration dates. My husband on the other hand is sure a one-day expired yogurt means certain death. Milk doesn't last long enough here to sour.
By: Nancy Felt on January 27, 2014
Both Mrs Jones & I are with you on this one Stephen; we are both sniffers. Also, I can identify totally with your comment about requiring a uterus to be able to locate household objects.
By: Bryan Jones on January 28, 2014
Depending on the milk product, proper handling, storage and temps. The shelf life of milk can extend beyond the 'best before date... or expire before its time. So I say play safe and SNIFF away.
By: Daniel LaFrance on January 29, 2014
I worked in the grocery industry for over 20 years. The dates one the packages are sell by dates. Most of them actually say best by. In most cases, there is a period of time beyond the date when the product is satisfactory, just not "best." The grocery stores around here usually guarantee their milk for a few days past the sell by date by as much as 7 days
By: dickster1961 on January 29, 2014
Like a couple of others have said, it can go bad before the expiry date ... or last beyond it depending on how the product is handled. I see nothing wrong with sniffing it, if that's your habit. I suspect you've tasted sour milk once or twice in your time, and are reluctant to repeat that. Just consider Mrs. C's sensibilities and smell it when she's not looking. ;)
By: Hilary on January 31, 2014

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