Are Your Cooking Spices Too Old?

In the grand scheme of things to watch out for—heavy metals, date rape drugs, foreclosure—a jar of less-than-potent nutmeg might not seem like such a big deal. But most ground spices lose their potency after only six months, which means households all across the country are about to enter the most spice-centric time of the year with expired spices. Spice seller McCormick now offers a handy spice-dating service via its website, which is how one highly excitable reader discovered that her local supermarket was selling stuff that was 5 years old.

I bought a bottle of McCormick curry powder a few days ago at the Superfresh (NOT) at the Hillcrest Shopping Center, Lansdale PA. I checked the site and it indicated it had no record of that number. OMG! Counterfeit spice! From China! With lead and anti-freeze in it!

So I called McCormick and gave a nice woman named Jenny the number. She said it was from 2002!!!!!!!!! No lead or anti-freeze.

We think the McCormick spice-dating service is great, but we also think it’s an easy way for McCormick to push greater sales of its spices, so we looked online for some independent info about how long spices really last. Turns out, six months is about the limit for ground spices, and whole spices can last one to two years. Peppercorns are the exception, lasting 5 years or more.

Spices aren’t dangerous when they’re too old, just less potent. One website says that “greatly increased quantities will be needed to get the same strength of flavour” and that “some of the more delicate elements of the flavour may be lost entirely.”

Patty didn’t have a lot of luck convincing the Superfresh manager that he was selling old merchandise, but we greatly admire the way she got so obsessive about something the manager would obviously prefer to just ignore:

SOOOO, I go to the “Superfresh” and explain to the guy at the ‘service’ counter about the dating system and how I called McCormick and how they said the curry I bought two days ago was manufactured in 2002.

He replied “we’ve only been here year so I don’t see how that could happen”

Leaving aside the IQ question I asked if he’d like to go with me to check to see if any more were out of date. He said no.

So I checked and the majority that I looked at were out of date, like one was made after 2004.

I went back and relayed this to him and he repeated they had only been there a year. I told him I would pass this information and what it implied about the freshness of their merchandise on and that I had written to The Consumerist about it. He gave me a refund card.

McCormick Spice Checker (thanks to Patty!)

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