I don’t remember food expiration dates being such a big deal when I was a child. Mom would home can fruits, vegetables and even meats and if we heard that “pop” sound when we lifted the metal lid, we could expect to live for another meal.

Sometimes we didn’t hear the “pop” or it was sort of wimpy sounding or maybe we just weren’t sure we heard the “pop” sound at all. After a short pause, we would examine the inside of the jar looking for fuzzy tell-tale signs of impending doom. Seeing none, the contents would be boiled beyond taste to make sure to compensate for the lack of a definite popping sound. Thankfully, my four siblings and I survived to adulthood.

Now, when my children come to visit, they examine the “use by” dates on every item in our cupboard and refrigerator. Who knew cans of soup can have such a short shelf life?

It is sometimes unnerving when we sit down to a meal together in our home and someone picks up the salad dressing bottle and says “Stop!” and everyone pauses mid-bite.

“Who has ranch dressing on their salad?”

The last time this happened, no one raised their hand, thankfully.

“Mom, this salad dressing expired last week!”

“Today is the first of the month, so technically it could be expired for 12 hours,” I retort.

I guess the two of us who still remain consistently in this house don’t use stuff up as quickly as we should. Our appetites are less and our eating at home is less as well. Our caring about little things is probably a little bit less too.

After the near-crisis moment of finding a past expiration date, a pall hangs over the table as the guests contemplate what danger may be present in the other food items. It is obvious in the slowed conversation and how they hold their children near to them.

“Are the canned tomatoes from this past year?”

“Should the creamed mushroom soup can that was used in the green beans be dug out of the garbage and checked?”

“Is there the possibility of death lurking in the gherkin pickles? Can the spices in the stuffing be trusted?”

Sometimes I defend a slight expiration date, “I just bought that at the store yesterday!” I will explain.

I guess stores miss expiration dates too.

“A week shouldn’t matter that much should it?”

But then, I ruminate on how maybe I blur too many demarcations in life. “I won’t get a traffic ticket if I’m only three miles over the speed limit. Five pounds over the medical line for obesity, isn’t really obese is it? Being five minutes late isn’t really late is it?”

Pushing boundaries is the American way. I’m a true American. I’m patriotic. Ex­pir­a­tion dates are mere suggestions as long as I don’t allow them to be too far past, right?

“You love your grandchildren, don’t you?” my daughter asked. “You want to keep them healthy and they want you and Grandpa to be around a long time.”

Man! She is smart! She has made me think of two things at the same time. The first thought is that I would do anything for my grandchildren, so every label will be checked from here on out. And the other thought is, you give them a college education and they use it against you.

I guess I should be thankful that I didn’t come with an expiration date stamped somewhere on me. I’m pretty sure I know what would happen the day after that date.