When it comes to Twinkies, and all process foods, shelf life is crucial. "Shelf life is the holy grail of packaged food," said Ettlinger. "In order to get shelf life, you give up something: fresh eggs, fresh cream, fresh butter…So you need to not only extend the shelf life with the product you're making but you have to replace those eggs with emulsifiers, you have to replace the butter with flavors or colors. You have to replace them with things. That's why the ingredient list starts getting long."
The shelf life of a Twinkie has become something of a mythical mystery. A number of people believe they last forever. They are even rumored to last longer than the plastic wrappers that encase them. These myths, however, are false. But a Twinkie can last weeks, maybe even months.
Even with all the science and mystery surrounding the product, Ettlinger said it's perfectly fine to eat.
"It's a treat! My gosh, it's a dessert! You can eat desserts, you can eat treats occasionally. The Hostess people always trot out the people, some old guy who has had a Twinkie every day of his life, and he is perfectly fine! I mean my gosh, they are not gonna kill you! They are a treat."