Confusion over ‘use by’ label contributes to 40% of U.S. food that is tossed each year

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  • Confused by the “sell by,” “use by” and “best before” labels on the foods sold at grocery stores? So are more than 90% of Americans, who prematurely discard edibles because they’ve misinterpreted the dates stamped on the products, according to a report released Wednesday.
  • Many think that an item’s sell-by date is the point at which the food will spoil, however, they’re actually meant to provide an estimate of how long the food will be at peak quality, which also allows retailers to better manage their inventory.
  •  “Expiration dates are in need of some serious myth-busting because they’re leading us to waste money and throw out perfectly good food, along with all of the resources that went into growing it,” said Dana Gunders, an NRDC staff scientist. “Phrases like ‘sell by,’ ’use by,’ and ‘best before’ are poorly regulated, and often misinterpreted.”
  • The misunderstanding comes at a steep price. The NRDC found that Americans throw out as much as 40% of the country’s food supply each year, adding up to $165 billion in losses.  Also, food waste makes up the largest portion of solid trash in landfills, according to researchers.
  • Some $900 million of expired food is dumped from the supply chain annually, much of it a result of confusion. Misinterpreted date labels cause the average American household of four to lose as much as $455 a year on squandered food, according to researchers.
  • The study attributes consumer reliance on expiration date labels in part on shoppers’ gradual shift away from farms over the years. So far removed from direct contact with food production, concerns about food-borne illnesses and freshness gave rise to preoccupation with sourcing and safety.
  • “We need a standardized, commonsense date labeling system that actually provides useful information to consumers, rather than the unreliable, inconsistent and piecemeal system we have today,” said Emily Broad Leib, director of Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic.
BalancedHealthy POV:
  • There’s no easy way to combat this problem.  The points they make about being so far removed from the source and being wary of foodborne illnesses are poignant ones.  In an effort to make sure we have the freshest and most wholesome foods for ourselves and our families, we are in turn negatively impacting the environment.  Most people will make their personal situation a priority over the overall situation (which includes the impact of those personal behaviors), and that’s why education about these labels are so important.  There are definitely misconceptions and myths that can be addressed and hopefully busted.
  • The fear of consuming food that may be past it’s prime is definitely a major contributor to this problem.  I’m also guilty of diving through the produce section in search of the perfect piece of fruit or the ripest and richest red tomato, free of any blemish or bruise.  This only proliferates the existing problem.  The documentary “Dive!” is definitely worth checking out if you want more information about food waste or just a reality check about your perception of what “fresh” food is.