Are You Throwing Away Good Food?

Food Dating Label

Have you ever heard that Americans waste an enormous amount of food? Well, one of the reasons why may be due to the fact that up to 25% of the food that enters the home ends up in the garbage. But, we're not alone. When viewed on a global scale, this is not just a problem in the United States but extends to other countries as well. Most experts agree that food waste leads to much more than the crippling effects to household budgets. It extends to humanitarian and environmental concerns as much of the world goes hungry while global resources are being exhausted.

A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic confirms what many experts have argued for years. Millions of pounds of wasted food are being prematurely discarded mainly due to confusion over "expiration dates" or "used by" dates stamped on the package. In most cases, these dates are not related to risk of food-borne illnesses and do not indicate how safe the food product is to consume. Food dating emerged as a way for manufacturer's to convey the product's level of freshness or to tell store workers when the product should be replaced on their shelves.

If stamped dates do not mean that a product has become inedible and are primarily used to let us know that a product may have exceeded its peak, why are we throwing away billions of dollars worth of food every year. It seems that someone forgot to tell consumers that food dating was never about health and safety. In fact, there is no government regulation in our country over the use of dates, except for infant formulas which can lose their potency. Obviously it is a confusing problem and authoring legislation for national standards will take time.

Since no one wants to get sick from eating spoiled food, progress could be made if the food industry would voluntarily standardized food dating to indicate the point where a food product is most likely to spoil. After all, inventory control codes and product replacement dates could easily be encrypted elsewhere on the packaging. Until such time, "use by" and "best by" dates can be considered as freshness indicators. "Sell by" dates means the product should be replaced with newer items by that date. As for "expired by" or "expiration" dates, it is still in your best interest to discard those food products in the name of safety.


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