I’m not terribly sure what criteria is used to establish sell-by or use-by dates, but a photo I spotted last week got me thinking.

It was a close-up photo of a gallon milk container, its sell-by date clearly showing “Oct 23 1538.” The photo was beautifully captioned “I’ll be right back, I have to put Henry the VIII’s milk in the refrigerator!”

This naturally appealed hugely to my funny bone and it brought to mind when the need for these notices was brought into law in Australia.

Knowing when milk is going to take on less than palatable properties is a good thing. Likewise, if your slab of steak hits the ‘I’m about to go green’ time, I’d certainly like to be made aware. Ditto for fish going all a bit stale, and chicken which might threaten to get up and walk out of your fridge if left too long.

Can cheese go off? I find this one a bit puzzling, especially as, in the case of a decent cheddar, the label boasts that it has been aged 8 years, so a use-by date of 3 months seems just a tiny bit over-reactionary.

The problem in Australia was – and probably still is – like with any country with a government department in charge of such things, the little boffins who are there to enforce the labeling take their jobs and their rules terribly seriously without ever questioning them.

Thus, the sellers of salt were just a tiny bit miffed that they had to go through the inconvenience and the added expense of giving their boxes a use-by date. Never mind the fact that salt has been used as a preservative long before Adam and Eve discovered the elusive salami, a use-by date it had to have. I believe the salt people wanted to tag the product with “use-by when hell freezes over,” or “use-by December 99th, 8763,” but the government, funnily enough, was not at all amused with the flippancy directed there upon.

Kraft got a little lips-of-string over the whole thing too. Fair enough, it supposed, with milk products, but Vegemite? Oh, come on now. Vegemite just cannot go off – it just can’t. I only finished the jar I brought with me to the U.S. in 1999 last year – and I’m still here to tell the tale, and still adore Vegemite.

I know, I know, you sweet-toothed Americans just cannot comprehend that someone could possibly love this salty sludgy spread to put on bread or toast, but we do. Can’t help it. So sorry.

Honey’s another one. It cannot spoil. Oh, it can go crystalline and get a tad crunchy, but it, like salt, can sport a use-by date long after the world has imploded in 8 millennia with the liberals telling us “we told you so.”

I can only hope a couple of things – that my personal use by date is some way off in the future, and that I expire with dignity, grace, and above all, speed. No lingering about, just find me the 423 bus and give me a good shove in front of it, and I will be eternally grateful.

Annie Dear lives in Lee’s Summit. Email her at anniedearkc@hotmail.com.