Here’s a common consumer conception — when you find a “use by” date stamped on your food or beverage product, you should either use it by that date, or toss it. Using products past their “expiry” date is unsafe.
A new report from the National Resources Defense Council entitled: The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America informs us that, as the title suggests, this understanding may not be true. Rather than communicating the microbial safety of a food product, expiration dates are just recommendations by manufacturers about when their product is at its peak quality.
Then there’s the “sell by” label. The NRDC argues that this probably shouldn’t even make its way onto consumer packaging, as it’s only designed for manufacturers to communicate to retailers. So if consumers are using this information to make decisions about consuming a product, they could be wasting even more food that is perfectly safe to consume.
The overarching challenge posed to the FDA and USDA in this report is to design a uniform food safety labeling system that regulates manufacturer labeling in a clear, and consistent manner. The hope is that with a more regulated food labeling system that is less likely to cause consumer confusion, we can start to chip away at the estimated $165 billion dollars of food that we waste each year.