Omar and I cleaned the refrigerator on Sunday afternoon. The fridge has three drawers and many shelves, all removable, so the architecture of the fridge lends itself to the occasional hidden food scrap or ingering odor. At one point I was scrubbing the back wall and felt like one of the dwarves of Khazad-dum, mining deeper into the layers of Moria. I scrubbed hard and a mysterious odor emerged. I half-expected a refrigerator Balrog to come out because we'd cleaned too deep. I'd be forced to confront him, wielding my paper towel like a staff. "Go back to the shadow! Your expiration date is nigh, Flame of Udun!"
At one point I did open a jar of ranch dip to check its freshness, and upon smelling it, I muttered, "You shall not pass." and tossed it in the trash.
One thing we noticed was an unusual amount of expired mustard. This was odd because neither of us were mustard eaters, nor were the other
girls people who kept food in that fridge. As far as I remembered, our previous roommate didn't seem to eat an unusual quantity of mustard either. And yet we had jar upon jar, some never opened, all long-unused, nearing or past their "best when used by" date, in all types and varieties of mustard. There was honey mustard, dijon mustard, deli mustard, hot sweet mustard, and cranberry mustard, all uneaten, unremembered, and unloved.
Preliminary surveys suggest this is not a phenomenon unique to our house. At least two friends report having mysterious mustard jars in the house that they never use, and can't remember ever acquiring. In the days when my Noe Street apartment often had no refrigerated food at all, we still had at least three mustards on our condiment shelf. Why does everyone have too much mustard??
There are a few possibilities. One is that mustard goes bad so slowly that it lasts for years, without getting visibly rotten or literally poisonous. It might lose a lot of flavor, but it will not get moldy and it will not kill you. Thus, absent a conscious effort to cull the condiment herd, mustard will survive indefinitely. Often, mustard will go along when a person moves to a new apartment, like pollen stuck to a bee's leg. Some people even argue that mustard never spoils:
ive used mustard from the 70's and nothings ever happen.
Another possibility is that fancy mustards are a common gift at the holidays, for people you either don't know well, or for whom you are making very little effort to shop. A three-pack of gourmet mustard is on sale at Hickory Farms, and you buy it on impulse, and wrap it up. You figure the recipient doesn't already have a lot of mustard, because you never see them use any. And the cycle of mustard continues.
Possibility 3: Rally Mustard.
Possibility 4: Waiting to replace their condiments until the development of Mayostard: