Use-by dates resulting in tremendous food waste

Use-byDatesFoodWasteUse-by dates are contributing to millions of pounds of wasted food every year, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic.

The researchers found that Americans are prematurely throwing out food, largely because of confusion over what expiration dates actually mean.

Most consumers mistakenly believe that expiration dates on food indicate how safe the food is to consume, when those dates aren’t actually related to the risk of foodborne illness. They solely indicate freshness, and are used by manufacturers to convey when the product is at its peak. For unrefrigerated foods, there may be no difference in taste or quality, and expired foods are unlikely to make people sick.

But according to the new analysis, words like “use by” and “sell by” are applied so inconsistently that they contribute to widespsread misinterpretation–and waste–by consumers. More than 90 percent of Americans throw out food prematurely, and as much as 40 percent of the U.S. food supply is tossed, unused, every year because of food dating.  Eggs, for example, can be consumed three to five weeks after purchase, even though the “use-by” date is much earlier. A box of mac-and-cheese with a use-by date of March 2014 can still be enjoyed in March 2015 without noticeable changes.

To combat confusion, researchers say the food industry should change date labels voluntarily, such as having the dates read when food is most likely to spoil instead.

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