When I went to China, I was in for a shock. ALL THE FOOD WAS EXPIRED. Of course, this was not the case. As the adage goes, if it isn't them, it's me. Or more specifically, ours. I was born and raised in a country where it is customary to put dates of expiry on consummables. The opposite is true for China--those tiny printed numbers are the date on when the product was manufactured.
Firstly, a common attitude towards date-of-expiry labels is that if it's beyond the date, then it's no good. If it's a few days beyond, then it's still a tentative can-eat, however, there still exists that tentativeness. The food is never the same. It's as if those tiny numbers can vastly alter the quality and texture of produce just by saying so. In reality of course, food "going bad" is a gradual process. Those numbers on the aluminum tin (or plastic) are likely merely median estimates for when a product would reasonably last, within a threshold allowance of error. However, as with any end-date specifications, we treat them as deadlines. I know particularly of several people who would gladly eat a piece of biscuit if it's three or two days before the expiry date as if it was still brand new, but who would no longer eat it if it was even a day after. This is of course irrational. Assuming your product with due respect to the fat part of the bell curve is one of the reasonably "average" ones there is, your biscuit is no more likely to be worse off a few days before than a few days after. There is a gradual deterioration of course, but NOT THAT FAST. I do realize that bacteria grows exponentially, but let's just assume that the expiry dates are set WELL BEFORE the time (with regards to storage in a dry and cool place) that bacteria even sets foot on that sacred ground.
Expiry dates are contentious at best. There is really no clear definition as to what they are, or even signify. If I was being a label nazi, I would have the company produce on a big fat label a bell curve diagram of the estimated "recommended to eat/drink/masticate before" dates among a sample population. NOT a cutoff date, because that is how you make it come out to be.
With manufactured dates however, a delineation as clear as the coloured spots on a dalmatian is never more true. If we view the two as reversals of each other, it becomes much more apparent. While with expiry dates, you can clearly logically and absolutely drink a pack of godamned milk after the date, you can not take a product before it's manufacture date. Because, it wouldn't exist then. What's more, it prevents the unreasonable expectation of the company actually taking responsibility for a fact whose truth lies along the area of a spread-out bell curve, rather than stating a truth that is definite at the very moment of conception! You cannot express the subtle ramifications of the difference in a sample population with one fucking number. With manufacture dates, it is left to the whims of the customer to decide when and if to eat the product. Naturally, this would be six months to a year (or a year and a half, if you're brave). Through experience, and of course plain common sense, someone who consumes a product well past its manufacture date probably deserves it. It's as if we assume rational adults are to be coddled like schoolchildren who would never do their homework if their teacher never asked for it.
Printing dates of manufacture makes more sense. However, like using the metric system, and driving on the right side of the road, this isn't going to change anytime soon. Because, then, everyone would, like the hopeless me, think ALL THE FOOD HAS EXPIRED IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD.
Note: I do realize there there are select companies in the mainland who print both their manufacture and expiry dates. In that case, they're twice as retarded.
This article will expire on November 10, 2010.