The Slice

Cracking the code

There is a cozy coffee shop near the newspaper that has, among many other offerings, refrigerated items such as potato salad and cottage cheese.

These snacks have been packaged by hand in clear, no-label plastic containers.

On the bottoms of these containers are mysterious marks of different colors made by a highlighter or some such. This, of course, is the proprietor's secret freshness code.

For years I have wondered what the colors mean. Is red good? Does green indicate the cottage cheese should have been thrown out last week? Does purple mean "extremely active" cultures?

And does he wipe off the marks after closing time and then make new ones using different colors?

Are the containers with no visible marks the ones with the freshest food? Or is that a ruse and the seemingly markless containers are actually little tubs that once had marks but have now been wiped clean even as the contents age?

OK, it's not like he's using an Enigma machine. It's a coffee shop, not a U-boat.

Still, I'm baffled.

Today I told the proprietor that I intend to crack his code.

He chuckled.

The potato salad I selected had a red mark on the bottom of the container. It turned out to be OK, but could have been fresher I suppose.

Next time I'll look for green. Or maybe blue.




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