Do We Waste Food Due to Faulty Expiration Dates?

Expiration Date on Can

According to a recent report by the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization, the amount of land being used to produce food that is never eaten represents an area larger than China. In the United States, we throw out about 25% of the food that enters our homes, which is a seemingly senseless waste when one in six Americans do not have a secure supply of food. In addition, many U.S. families could save hundreds if not thousands of dollars on their food budget each year if food that was still good to eat wasn't wasted due to the confusion over expiration dates.

The Food Marketing Institute says confusion over what dates on food packaging actually mean leads to nine out of every ten consumers needlessly throwing away food. The fact is, Americans are not trying to be wasteful, people simply don't understand date labeling. Some consumers end up keeping spoiled food around too long while others throw away perfectly eatable food products in fear of getting sick. All together it is estimated that confusion over dates is costing our country billions of dollars annually.

It is easy to understand why people are having trouble differentiating the meaning of common food labeling terminology. After all, do you know the difference in "best if used by date" versus "use by" versus "best before "or what about "sell by date" versus "expired date"? Generally speaking, "use by" and "best before" are unregulated and have little to do with food safety. Although each can vary by state, these terms most often reflect the manufacturer's recommendation as to when the food product is at its peak quality, whereas "sell by" indicates the date that the store should remove the product from their shelves.

If you do see that an "expiration date" or "expired by date" has been reached, it is a good idea to throw the food away, although standardization is needed as some well-stored canned goods may be good to eat for a year or more. Frozen products will often start to degrade after expiration dates due to freezer burn. Nonetheless, it is understandable that as a consumer you may want to play it safe once a food product passes a date indicated on the package; but it is not as forgivable that government agencies are allowing us to needlessly exhaust our natural resources.


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