the smell of my desperation has become a stench


Jon reaches into the refrigerator and grabs the gallon of skim milk. I’m standing two feet away over a pan of eggs, a blood red spatula in my hand. Out of the corner of my eye I can see him sniff the top of the carton, pause, and then sniff it again. Because within two seconds that milk just might smell different. YOU NEVER KNOW.

Unless you’re a psychic. Then, yeah. You knew.

He grimaces in a kind-of-but-not-really-passive-aggressive way to get me to ask him what is wrong.

“You don’t look happy,” I say.

“Smell this and tell me what you think,” he says. There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t even have time to start listing them. But I’ll do it anyway since I’m sitting here writing this and not out trying to save the world: the smell of that milk just made him grimace, and now his misery wants company?

Screw it, I’m the one who watches scrotal botfly infestation videos. If I don’t smell it then somewhere in here is a double standard, and since I haven’t had coffee yet there isn’t much in my stomach in case I puke.

I sniff the carton and can’t smell a damn thing. “It’s fine,” I say and then I turn my focus back to the eggs. He pours the milk into the frother, powers it up, and then returns the carton back to the refrigerator. And then he shrugs. No, he dramatically shrugs. You don’t dramatically shrug unless you’re being passive aggressive, and you don’t notice someone dramatically shrugging unless you are looking specifically to nitpick.

“Why are you shrugging?” I ask, looking to nitpick.

“It’s just, the Sell By date on the milk is five days ago,” he answers.

“WHAT?!” I scream. “You’re going to use milk that went bad five days ago?!” Except it sounded like, “WHO THE HELL ARE YOU ANYMORE?”

“I asked you to smell it!” he explained. “You said it was fine!”

“But you didn’t tell me it expired five days ago!”

“Does that date matter if it smells fine?”

“DOES IT MATTER?! Who is going to drive us to the hospital when we both collapse from E. coli, JON? Leta can’t see over the steering wheel!”

He purposefully moves very slowly toward the frother, turns it off and takes it to the sink to pour it out. “You do realize that this was a classic case of spousal miscommunication?”

“Meaning you didn’t communicate to me that the milk was expired?”



  • Oakgirl

    2011/09/14 at 12:11 pm

    So neither of you gave it a tiny sip to see if it was bad? From what I understand, dairy products are supposed to be okay 5 days after the expiration date. And I’m suspecting Marlo may know how to drive, if need be.

  • Pandora Has A Box

    2011/09/14 at 12:11 pm

    The expiration date is my Bible. In fact, two days before the expiration date is when I start hearing the voices from on high.

  • gladcow

    2011/09/14 at 12:18 pm

    can we talk about the dates?

    sell by date
    best by date
    best before date
    expiration date
    freshness date


  • one-in-three

    2011/09/14 at 12:18 pm

    Past date milk curdles immediately upon viewing of the expiration date, even if previously fine.


  • ali in indy

    2011/09/14 at 12:18 pm

    Sell by Date does not equal Expiration Date… If that was the case, I would have died years ago.

  • eherzog

    2011/09/14 at 12:20 pm

    Isn’t the sell by date different from the expiration date? Even if the sell by date was a few days ago, it could still be good.

    I feel like I’m nitpicking your post.

  • Amy J.

    2011/09/14 at 12:20 pm

    OMG, you’re my nine year old daughter!!!

    So, I check the expiration dates on milk, but I don’t live by them…I sniff like Jon at least up to a week after the date. And, brace yourself, but I don’t go by the date on eggs either. I will go up to two weeks passed that!! EGADS. I just crack them in a bowl to check before using and if I’m really suspicious I might do the float test, just in case. (Calm your breathing Heather)

    However, my child is OCD about expiration dates and will throw it away if it is two minutes passed the date…thirty seconds passed if it’s something like luncheon meat or milk.

    A week or so ago she came to me with a pack of ham in her hand…informed that it had gone bad…the previous day.

    I told her I had just opened it just a few days before and it was fine. I went to make a sandwich the next day, but couldn’t find the ham, which confused me because I knew I had JUST opened a new package. Then I remembered…

    I called for my daughter and asked her if she’d tossed it out even after I told her it was ok. She looked at me sheepishly and then with a huff of exasperation, as if I was the bad guy, said, “Mom, do you want me to get botulism!?”

    Heather meet Sarah…

    Sarah meet Heather, who will now explain to you how to make sure you take your meds the same time every day ; ).

  • greenplanner

    2011/09/14 at 12:20 pm

    The ‘Sell by’ date isn’t an expiration date. If the milk is kept cold it should be fine for at least a week after that date. If the milk smells fine there’s no problem.

  • jewels421

    2011/09/14 at 12:22 pm

    Yeah, “Sell By” and “Use By” are two different things. “Use By” means “expired.” I have always heard that “Sell By” means the date the store must sell it by, and that milk is typically good for one week after that date (YMMV).

    But, regardless, if it smells bad, even if the date says it okay, I would dump it…

  • jessicadennis

    2011/09/14 at 12:23 pm

    Oh pish; if it smells fine, it’s fine. Milk lets you know right away. And even if it’s expired, it won’t kill you; it just won’t taste very good.

  • lolabelle

    2011/09/14 at 12:24 pm

    Oh, FPS. If it smells fine it is fine. Sell by, use by, expiration, they’re all different, and they’re all conservative estimates.

  • Jenni

    2011/09/14 at 12:25 pm

    As someone who has had food poisoning five times in her life, if it’s past midnight on that date…I don’t drink it.

  • melo

    2011/09/14 at 12:25 pm

    I’m with Jon on this one. I always sniff, and if it smells fine, I drink it. My husband, on the other hand, won’t eat bread if its more than a week old.

  • writtendad

    2011/09/14 at 12:26 pm

    Okay, I’m with everyone else on this one: The milk was probably okay. BUT, the way it played out was great. It’s awesome to watch someone else go through a spousal miscommunication/you didn’t give me all the info/I didn’t think it mattered moment.

    But seriously, it’s mind over matter. Had I seen the date, it would have smelled funny. You both win.

  • lilennox

    2011/09/14 at 12:27 pm

    Okay! Here’s a post from the Dairy Council of California confirming that properly-refrigerated milk should be fine for 5-7 days after the sell-by date. That date is NOT an expiration date, it’s the date after which stores can’t sell the milk.

    So, let’s all take a step back and enjoy some nice, unspoiled milk… also, you know that both skim and whole dairy products are neutral with regard to long-term weight change, right? So, spring for the full-fat milk, you guys. So much tastier.

  • REBottoni

    2011/09/14 at 12:33 pm

    It’s already been said up above – sell by date doesn’t mean it expires on that date UNLESS YOU LIVE IN NJ – here I buy milk that may be sold up to a date approx 10 days in the future; sometimes as many as 12 days in the future. BUT it starts tasting funny two days before that date. So I always take a tiny taste before a big gulp, even if I just bought it.

  • c_girl

    2011/09/14 at 12:41 pm

    That reminds me of my all-time favorite Roseanne bit, where they all take a swig of milk, find it disgustingly sour, and put it right back in the fridge.

  • The Dalai Mama

    2011/09/14 at 12:44 pm

    It’s been said by others already–but milk is good for about a week or so after the sell by date.

    But I too love this–I have these conversations with my husband–but usually me shrugging as he eats a piece of pizza that sat out all night–because he was too lazy to put it away.

  • tokenblogger

    2011/09/14 at 12:44 pm

    I always taste test if the smell is okay. Milk can last beyond the ex. date if it’s kept cold enough. Besides doesn’t the frother heat the milk up? Maybe enough to kill anything lurking in milk that smells fine?

    And with two kids and four adults in the house, pretty regular, who has milk left beyond the expiration date?


  • Esmter

    2011/09/14 at 12:46 pm

    to paraphrase from an episode of Hoarders (though this was referring to yogurt), ‘If the container’s not puffy, it’s FINE.’

    uh no, it’s NOT fine. I’m sure there’s enough junk in milk products these days already, and i can’t imagine some of them aren’t there to make it still smell fine 5 days past the sell by date.


  • tracy211

    2011/09/14 at 12:48 pm

    Tangent: what milk frother do you have?

  • dooce

    2011/09/14 at 12:55 pm
  • darsella

    2011/09/14 at 1:13 pm

    yet this post really has nothing to do with milk or expiration dates.

  • jon

    2011/09/14 at 1:18 pm

    This post is only somewhat passive aggressive.

  • LRDozier

    2011/09/14 at 1:24 pm

    Nothing goes past these lips if the date has past that is stamped on the label. Husband completely disagrees… our biggest arguement is about red meat. He believes that the longer the steak is there, the more “aged” it becomes and the better it will be! Ha!

  • MyKidsMom

    2011/09/14 at 1:43 pm

    @LRDozier: He’s right about the steak I think. Alton brown would have you put the meat in the fridge, not even wrapped tightly, for a week before using it. Then he says to simply cut off any mold before cooking. Egads!

    I’m the one who says to my DH, “This smells bad. Here, you smell it.” But yet I’ll buy milk on the “sell by” date if I catch the store marking down the price. We’ll drink it before it expires anyway, so I might as well save a buck.

  • MarchelineB.

    2011/09/14 at 2:02 pm

    Okay, I’m going to be one of the only ones here who does not focus on the dang milk, which was obviously FINE anyway.

    What irks me about this is that you gave in to the grimace and the shrug. My husband also has these little passive agressive ways sometimes, like getting in my way “helping” in the kitchen when he’d really rather be upstairs playing on the computer… so he waits for me to get frustrated and ban him from the kitchen. Once you can spot these little tricks, why give in?

    Me, I’d have let him sniff the milk by himself, make the call to use or not use it, and take the first sip. It’s no fair calling someone passive agressive when you’re enabling them by totally being a sucker.

  • Santiago

    2011/09/14 at 2:05 pm

    “WHAT?!” I scream. “You’re going to use milk that went bad five days ago?!” Except it sounded like, “WHO THE HELL ARE YOU ANYMORE?”

    Very perceptive. Realized something like this myself recently and now it’s so much easier to conjure up a non-screaming response and treat my partner with some decency and respect.

    I always love the Jon/love/marriage posts.

  • Caloden

    2011/09/14 at 2:12 pm

    I’ve been accused of having goat blood in my lineage because I’ll eat something that’s sat out all night. Him, he’s delicate and won’t touch a thing past a sell date.

    Passive aggressive in the kitchen is commonplace and because it’s such a small space it’s hard not to get sucked in to it. Of course if you sit back and watch it, it’s an entertaining show. But that’s only if you can detach, recognize it for what it is and then enjoy it all the more.

  • tokenblogger

    2011/09/14 at 2:27 pm

    @Jon: Laughed out loud. Thanks for that.

  • LisaAR

    2011/09/14 at 2:46 pm

    I love the discussion on dates that this has spawned. We all have our modes of operation, don’t we?

    The classic nutshell of marital “communication” you have just shared is so spot on, Heather…oh, my…It all makes perfect sense to me!

  • MsMegan

    2011/09/14 at 2:46 pm

    Good lord, I’ve had this same conversation before. I usually go by smell, but five days may be beyond my limit. Unless it’s buttermilk, which doesn’t seem to ever go bad (or perhaps it’s already bad when you buy it).

  • apostate

    2011/09/14 at 2:58 pm

    Please forgive me for using your comment section to get this information out, but sombody’s son and brother and friend is missing. His family is suffering. I would appreciate it if anybody reading this (particularly people from Utah and Nevada) would take a minute to click on this link and share any information they might have.

  • KristiBug

    2011/09/14 at 3:13 pm

    OH MY GOD! No wonder you were fighting, I have the same thing with my husband.

    It’s SELL BY. It’s good for another WEEK after that. Crazies. 🙂


  • Norabloom

    2011/09/14 at 4:09 pm

    I’m with Jon on this one. He knew that you’d be prejudiced by knowing the sell by date beforehand, and therefore unable to render an unbiased opinion as to whether the milk smelled funny or not.

    Of course, it’s always better to be safe. Listeria, anyone?

  • annalitchka

    2011/09/14 at 4:17 pm

    But, but, but ….

    Am I the only one who read the article in Slate recently saying that spoilage bacteria DON’T make you sick??

    And the other one about how use-by dates, sell-by dates, etc., are just estimates by the industry, very conservative estimates based on the laziest kind of refrigeration and other handling by the consumer?

    You gotta check this out. There’s two kinds of bacteria, the spoilage bacteria, which ARE HARMLESS though disgusting, and the pathogenic bacteria, which make you sick or kill you — but don’t make the food taste/smell/look bad.

    here’s the article about spoilage bacteria versus pathogenic bacteria:

    and what the USDA says about spoilage bacteria being harmless:

    Here’s the article about those dates being essentially meaningless:

    They say you need to trust your nose, your eyes, your good sense about spoilage and not the dates.

    I also heard that foster-care agencies will not approve you to take in foster kids if you have anything with an expired date on it in your fridge — so obviously, Heather, you’re not the only one who thought expiration dates meant spoiled food.

  • tracy211

    2011/09/14 at 4:30 pm

    Thank you @dooce!!!

  • mybottlesup

    2011/09/14 at 4:47 pm


    my pregnancy hormones may be playing into my YELLING, i dunno… BUT GAH!!!

  • mommica

    2011/09/14 at 6:25 pm

    I don’t take chances with my dairy products.

  • jeffeners

    2011/09/14 at 6:40 pm

    Marriage is “like picking the place you’re going to live for the next fifty years by using a wall map, a blindfold, and what you really, truly, deeply believe is your lucky dart.” Thanks for the reminder to tear my wall map down and throw my dart into the ocean.

  • paminmi

    2011/09/14 at 6:50 pm

    A few months ago I finished off a gallon of milk that was nearly a month past it’s sell by date because it continued to taste and smell fine.

    I also have been known to eat foods after they’ve been sitting out overnight and also to forget to put a fresh carton of eggs in the fridge after shopping… until the next day.

    Yep, perfectly healthy!

  • Prin

    2011/09/14 at 7:14 pm

    Actually, it’s Listeria monocytogenes that you have to worry about in milk

  • muse2323

    2011/09/14 at 7:15 pm

    Ha! I regularly have milk–perfectly good, drinkable milk–in my fridge that’s well past the sell-by date. But here’s the thing: once it reaches five days past, I ask my husband to smell it. My olfactory something-or-others are generally considered broken, though I’m not sure he’s convinced of it. If he’s not around, I take a tiny swig (right out of the carton–I’m the only one who uses it anyway).

    The only time I’ve ever encountered bad milk, though, was at one of those cookie places at a mall–not exactly what one wants in one’s mouth when one has just devoured a delightfully sugary, chocolaty bit of goodness. And that milk was well within its sell-by date.

  • sevenmarie

    2011/09/14 at 8:20 pm

    i know you probably won’t read this but….
    Jon probably has to drink skim as he had his gallbladder taken out and it is hard to digest fat for a long time after that.

  • heywoman

    2011/09/14 at 8:27 pm

    and omg I’m so skinny! You left that part out “DOOCE”

  • SurprisingWoman

    2011/09/14 at 9:36 pm

    My son quit drinking as much milk and it took me a while to notice so the way we would choose which gallon to open would be by which was the most past the expire date.

    Most milk is processed at a higher temperature than they need to (think ultra pasteurized vs pasteurized) so it will last longer than the sell by date anyway.

    We have had milk on more than one occasion be a month old.

    And we are all fine.

    Common sense does a body good.

  • Badger

    2011/09/15 at 2:30 am

    Ok, so it’s not the UK’s most reputable paper…but I did see this on BBC news this morning.

  • Trina

    2011/09/15 at 4:19 am

    yeah, this is why I told you I have a strange connection to dooce – I swear this was my morning on monday.

    (picking myself up off the floor dying of laughter and I think I pee’d my pants)

  • Lauren3

    2011/09/15 at 8:37 am



  • paulam

    2011/09/15 at 9:56 am

    PERSONAL RULE OF THUMB: When a male asks you to smell something, don’t!

    My two youngest kids (of 4) are boys, now 14 and 15 years old. They always want me to smell stuff: their shoes, socks, hands, yuck! If I by chance cave in, I always regret it.

    What”s up with that?

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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