This $6 roll of stickers saves me from getting food poisoning and standing in front of my fridge sniffing almond milk and cheese

Almond milk and daiya cheese labeled with the date they were opened with stickers
The author uses stickers to label foods with the dates they were opened.The author
  • I can never remember when I open food items that go bad quickly.

  • To avoid both food waste and getting food poisoning, I needed a solution.

  • Putting a sticker with the date on packages after I open them helps me feel safe about what I eat.

In the great expiration-date debate, I fall somewhere in the middle. More than once, I've had a headache while at a friend's house, asked for an aspirin, and been told they only have an ancient bottle. I'll take an expired tablet without batting an eye, saying, "It doesn't really 'expire'; it might just be less effective." After putting matcha into my jar of choice and giving a carton of almond milk I know was opened less than 10 but more than seven days ago a sniff — and asking my partner for a second-opinion sniff, just for good measure — I'll pour it right on top of the green powder and drink up.

On the more cautious side of the spectrum, ever since I read "Kitchen Confidential," in which Anthony Bourdain wrote, "nobody I know has ever made hollandaise to order" and that "bacteria love" the rich sauce, I've resisted the urge to order eggs Benedict during weekend brunch with friends — no matter how much I like the taste of the dish. And while I'm not fond of food waste, I won't eat leftover takeout beyond the day after I've ordered it. Even my favorite foods aren't worth poisoning myself.

I hate food waste, and I knew I could get better at avoiding it at home

In my own kitchen, I try my best to use food before it goes bad. I freeze things that come in large quantities that will defrost well, like large loaves of bread, so I can eat them in the future. I also check expiration dates on items I don't frequently use, like all the different jams I've bought on impulse when I want to change up my toast or peanut-butter-and-jelly routine or the strange varieties of mustard I've purchased.

The items that don't have a hard-and-fast expiration date but a use-within-X-days-of-opening clause on the label are the bane of my existence. These are the kinds of items to which I've lost precious time inspecting and sniffing. Because I'm typically less aware of how long I have left to eat something before it's too late and obviously unusable (due to mold, or a smell, or sometimes both), these are often the items I end up throwing away. That is until I developed my sticker system.

A $6 roll of stickers was the answer to my issue

OK, "sticker system" makes it sound a lot more elaborate than it really is. Really, this "system" simply entails keeping a roll of round, white stickers that I bought for $6 near my fridge and labeling anything with the date the second I open it, so I don't have to constantly ask myself, "When did I make that first sandwich with the new pack of cheese, and am I going to get sick if I make a grilled cheese with these last two slices?"

Roll of stickers on counter in kitchen
The author keeps a roll of white stickers on the kitchen countertop with some pens nearby.The author

By labeling things that go bad relatively quickly after they're opened, I no longer have to rely on my memory — or my sense of smell — when I set to work making a meal. Though I do still recommend the old sniff test here and there when your stickers let you know you're reaching the end of the usable period.

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