More Americans are buying food in bulk from stores like Costco and Sam’s Club than ever before. Many products are less expensive when purchased in larger quantities and can offer tremendous savings. If the item is not perishable, it can make a lot of sense to stock up.
The Story: Some years ago, I got food poisoning and fell dreadfully ill. Don’t worry; as is the case with most food poisoning, I felt better the next day. I didn’t want to press my luck, though, so I tried to stick with bland “safe” foods.
The roads were in disarray from bad weather, so I decided it was best to forage through the pantry for rations. That’s when I happened upon eight packages of Top Ramen at the back of the cupboard, which was a bit odd, as I had no recollection of ever buying Top Ramen.
After I had time to think about it, I remembered the Ramen had probably been with me since my freshman year of college, for the better part of 13 years at the time. In fact, I also recalled that I had never purchased Top Ramen. Instead, I had ransacked my parents’ pantry while my mom was probably doing my laundry back in college.
The extreme age of the Ramen did cause me some concern, but I couldn’t find an expiration date on any of the packages. Did that mean it was good forever? Could it have been produced before the FDA required ‘best by’ dates? Perhaps it could be like wine, and even improve with time?
As hunger consumed me, I made the executive decision to eat the Ramen.
After I had my fill, I did a little investigating. There was a contact phone number on the package: “Tell us how you like Top Ramen. Call Toll-Free 1-800-677-6645.” To my dismay, that number was no longer in service. That’s when I really became concerned.
If you go to the Nissin Foods website, it states: “Top Ramen – The Original Instant Ramen since 1970.” That provided some relief, at least I knew the bag was less than 37 years old.
After a little more searching, I was finally able to find a working phone number and was transferred to a helpful employee. What I learned was that Top Ramen has a shelf life of 1-year.
Crap, that’s not good!
I explained that my package could easily be 15 years old, and was facetiously told I should mail it in to be put in their museum. She then went on to explain that after about one year the oil in the package goes rancid.
Double Crap, that’s not good either!
The Breakdown: Needless to say, I discarded the remaining relic packages of Top Ramen.
Reminiscing about my flirtation with gastrointestinal death made me think about all the other products I let go to waste due to spoilage or expiration. Many of these items were purchased in bulk because I “knew” I was getting a good deal: large blocks of cheese that went moldy, meat frozen for longer than experts recommend, fruits and vegetables that spoiled, etc.
Sometimes we simply can’t eat all the lettuce before it wilts. Other times, we buy a large bag of XYZ product, only to realize we don’t really like it or grow tired of it before we’ve eaten it all.
A colleague recently told me about the seemingly bottomless bag of frozen meatballs he was stuck eating because his daughter no longer liked them. Ironically, this was shortly after sampling the product at Costco and asking him to get them.
There is an underlying tendency to overestimate the savings on items purchased from these types of stores. Sometimes we fail to do the math on per-unit cost, not realizing it may actually be cheaper in the portion size we find at the grocery store. Other times we don’t eat enough of it to ever fully realize the savings.
Buying in bulk can certainly be a great way to lower your grocery bill, especially for a family. Just be careful to do the math and not go ‘over the top’ when stockpiling your Ramen.