• Canned coconut milk and jarred chili paste: Use within the first two years, but it's good for five to six years.
• Packaged polenta, unprepared: Nine months, unopened.
• Mole, jar: Two to three years, unopened.
• Spanish olives, jar: One year, unopened
• Sesame oil: Several years unopened; about one year, once opened.
I did manage to track down the approximate age of my family bottle of Worcestershire. Helpful types at Lea & Perrins (also good shelf-life information, at www.leaperrins.com) say their sauce is best used within two years for peak flavor, but it can remain serviceable for five to 10 years after purchase if you shake the bottle, as it says on the label, to re-infuse the settled herbs and spices. Refrigeration doesn't necessarily prolong its life.
Best-by dates began appearing on L&P bottles two years ago, but company consumer affairs spokesman Tom McGrory says mine is most likely the wayward half of a cellophane-collared twin-pack, created especially for sale at Costco and Sam's Club. Its manufacture date was originally stamped in yellow ink (remember, dark bottle) on the base of the neck, but it has rubbed off, I guess. The cream-colored label is otherwise unblemished, and McGrory informs me that L&P switched from its previously orange labels three years ago.
Eureka! Our bottle is barely middle-aged, and so it will remain on the shelf -- still a little tangy, and filled with fond remembrance.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company