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The Legendary Shelf Life of a Twinkie

How long can a Twinkie REALLY last?

If we could step outside the universe and somehow inspect its packaging, we’d find a shelf life of something on the order of a . After that, all the heat in the universe will be exhausted. Life and all energetic processes will hit their thermodynamic expiration dates. But long before that, . The outer layers of our star will peel off into the inner solar system, vaporizing Mercury, Venus, and most likely the Earth. No worries though. We will be long gone. All life will have perished

. So in all likelihood humanity will never survive to see the Earth’s inglorious end. And you, as an individual organism, . So why even bother worrying about the fate of the Earth, much less the universe? Our shelf life is but a bug splat upon the windshield of an unimaginably immense cosmological road trip.

But don’t despair. The world is full of shelf lives shorter than ours. We need only go to the produce section of our local grocery store to see that.

Consider the strawberry.

. And they’re only in season for a couple months. Without a robust international food trade, once the Earth tilts away from the Sun, strawberries in the northern hemisphere would all but disappear.

. On that date, in a bakery in Schiller Park, Illinois, machines meant for the construction of strawberry shortcake sat idle — because strawberries were out of season. Without strawberry shortcakes on its shelves, the bakery had one less product to sell and a business without products to sell wouldn’t last much longer. So the baker conceived of a product to fill the vacancy. He put his machines to work creating a yellow sponge cake filled with cream, constructed of ingredients that he need not worry about perishing or going out of season.

It would be called the Twinkie.

In the subsequent decades, . Most commonly, it was said to last somewhere between fifty and hundred years without any loss of flavor or structural integrity. After all, it was made of so many artificial substances and pumped full of so many preservatives, the Twinkie was more of a tasty polymer molded into the shape of a cake than an actual baked good. there were even rumors that embalming fluids played a crucial role in Twinkie formulation. Legend even went as far as to claim that a Twinkie had an indefinite shelf life. A Twinkie might — for all practical purposes — last forever.

Now there is an atom of truth buried in this mountain of hyperbole. Indeed Twinkies are composed of many additives and preservatives. Most crucially, unlike many pastries,. Dairy products have a notoriously short shelf life — especially outside of any sort of refrigeration. Removing dairy from the formulation, allows a Twinkie to have a shelf life that extends beyond most other baked goods. Plus, each Twinkie is individually wrapped in an airtight cellophane packaging. This keeps out moisture, mold, bacteria, and other deleterious elements — further extending the Twinkie’s shelf life.

In 1999, the senior class at Shoreline High School in Washington . The council was busy selecting artifacts of cultural and historical significance to be included in a time capsule for the 22nd century. The students strongly felt the Twinkie should be counted among such luminary objects as a photo of Rosa Parks and a CD ROM of the human genome as items that might interest future generations. Alas, the Twinkies never made it into the capsule. The council deemed the snack cakes too attractive to vermin, and therefore, a significant hazard to all the other notable artifacts in the time capsule. But the council would be remiss if they let the Twinkies (and all those students’ hard work) go to waste. So in a unanimous decision, the council ruled that the Twinkies should be eaten, forthwith. If there was ever any doubt that the Twinkies would last the course of a century sealed in a time capsule, no one ever expressed it.

But it’s not like the Twinkies’ shelf life was unknowable. Its parent company, Hostess, clearly knew. Long for a baked good but far short of forever.

But for a time, Twinkies disappeared from the shelves altogether.

. Twinkie sales had been declining for years. with less additives and shorter shelf lives. Hostess’s product line just wasn’t well-tailored to this newly health-conscious American consumer. So Twinkie production in the United States shut down. Avid Twinkie addicts began hoarding them, hoping they could stockpile enough to last them the rest of their lives. But nothing could forestall the inevitable.

In that moment, the Twinkies’ long and distinguished career as America’s favorite pastry came to an end. But thankfully, nothing lasts forever — even the end.

In the Spring of 2013, and the Twinkie factories resumed production that summer. These resurrected Twinkies were slightly smaller and had less calories than their predecessors. Most importantly, their shelf life had been tweaked. They now could last upwards of 45 days.

But the unofficial shelf life of a Twinkie remains unresolved.

In 2009, . They intended to wait 10 years — until they were eighteen years old and had fulfilled the shelf life of adolescence — before exhuming the Twinkie. But as each week passed, they grew impatient. 10 years seems like forever for an eight year old. They couldn’t wait that long. They resolved to wait until the end of the year. So after 9 months in an old mayonnaise jar, buried under a pile of rocks that had been there longer than anyone knew, they retrieved the Twinkie and ate it. The boys suffered no ill effects. It tasted normal. By all accounts, the Twinkie was still good.

In Maine, . It has been at the school for over 40 years. It is believed to be the world’s oldest Twinkie. Except for a layer of dust and a little wear and tear, the Twinkie has changed little in all that time. Whether it is still edible is doubtful. It is very likely at the outer limits of its lifespan.

If anything is said to last forever, it could be the photon. A single photon has an s. That’s one billion multiplied by one billion years. But it could be longer. A photon might never decay.

So long after the last Twinkie has decayed into dust, the photons that once reflected off its spongy texture and crossed the barrier of its transparent cellophane wrapping will still retain some fraction of its golden hue — the entirety of its image scattered across what is left of the universe, broken up into countless particles moving at the speed of light, far into eternity.

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