DULUTH — In my wildest dreams, I never thought this would be our fate.

We were diligent, good provisioners and stewards of what America has to offer. There was nothing extravagant about our purchases or lifestyle. Steak was a treat with the occasional lobster thrown in during summer reunions, transported by family from Cape Cod. The purchase of spirits was always with an eye to shared tastes, rather than buying over-budget imported booze that only one person would drink.

Then one day it hit us when I pulled out the vegetable drawer in the fridge: The zucchini had changed.

Everything has a shelf-life, I’m told. All it takes is a quick read of a package or a container to see “best used by.” But what does that mean? Will the world end if the sliced ham in the shiny package is two days out-of-date? Or does the expired cream cheese on a toasted bagel lead to hospitalization and death? Most likely not.

There are a multitude of stories told by friends and relatives about the adventures and mishaps surrounding dark, unexplored cupboards and fragrant “fresh” fruit venues. One of my favorites is the vinegar-flavored potato chips tale.

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At one family reunion, a famished brother-in-law was on the prowl for a quick snack before the evening’s meal. As he dug around the back of a pantry, he came across an unopened box of potato chips; what a find for a hungry man! He took out the box of famous brand crispy taters, opened it and started munching. He noted a slightly different taste and a less-than-crunchy bite and commented, “Hmm, must be vinegar-seasoned from Canada.” He took a look at the bottom of the box, hesitated and said, “These were made in 1997.” It was 2008. Chomping stopped.

Then there was the time we had apple pie for dessert and decided to make it more tasty by going a la mode. As the container was opened to add the velvety, vanilla sweetness, we noticed the ice cream had a frosty rime on top of it and a slightly different yellow color. Here I refer you to the 1997 Albert Brooks movie “Mother,” where Debbie Reynolds says the ice crystals are a “protective coating.” Seems like many of our frozen desserts end up with a safeguarding shield.

The real player in the game of food preservation is the vegetable and fruit crispers. Someplace on the door of the fridge, perhaps next to the ice-cube thingy, there should be a place for an electronic check-sheet with color coding that senses the state of the fruit and veggie drawers. When fresh, the colors are brilliant and lush; when on the brink of a toss into the garbage can, dark and murky. There could even be an icon that looks like waves on an ocean, suggesting liquid waste inside and better pull out the drawers, dump the whole thing and head to the grocery store.

Common sense should rule most menu planning. Our nose, sense of touch and eyeballs are excellent barometers of what is OK to consume. If it kind of looks like an orange, feels soft and cuddly and smells funky as it's starting to turn a fuzzy green and white, time to toss it. Bon appetit.

Doug Lewandowski is a retired counselor, educator and psychologist. Write to him at lewandowskidoug@gmail.com.