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Eco-fact Friday: Food expiration labels can be misleading

There are few things that get under my skin more than wasting food. It's so avoidable! Don't overbuy perishables when you go to the grocery store, don't pack your kids lunches that you know they won't finish, don't throw out valuable leftovers after dinner is over. But there is another reason apart from these that causes a massive waste of food. Did you know that approximately 1.6 billion tons of food go to waste globally every year? This staggering number is due to a number of factors, but a major one is the "expires by" or "best if used by" labels found on the packaging. Unbeknownst to most people those dates are NOT FDA-regulated (with the exception of baby formula), leading to an often unnecessary discarding of food that is likely to be perfectly safe to eat. When folks read those dates, there is an automatic assumption that the food is inedible past a certain date-- whether because it's not at its prime flavor-wise or actually unsafe for consumption. In actuality, the dates are most frequently placed on the food packaging by the food-producers themselves, oftentimes in the name of economics rather than food safety or flavor. If one sees that a food is "expired" by a certain date, people are likely to discard it and replace it by buying another similar food item, thus putting more  money directly in the hands of the food-producers. Ask yourself, do these dates affect your opinion of whether your food items are at their peak in quality and/or safe to consume? I admit that I often take note of the dates on food, at least in terms of the dairy products or other perishable items, and discard accordingly, even when it makes my skin crawl to waste it.

Food expiration dates can be misleading

One of the key issues is food safety versus food quality-- two very different things. It's one thing if a food item isn't at its optimal stage of tastiness; it's another thing if the food isn't SAFE to consume. "Expires by" usually translates to food safety whereas "best if used by" seems to indicate whether the food is at its peak quality-wise. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D) of Connecticut has just introduced a bill that will identify a certain level of microbial risk after a certain date, which will help to distinguish between the safety issue and the taste issue. This will hopefully cut down on a large amount of food waste. When you think about the fact that about 40 percent of our food supply is being discarded each year, this bill is crucial. Because there are many factors that lead to food waste the bill isn't going to be the solution, but the hope is that it will make a large dent in the problem.

1 comment

Dec 27, 2016 • Posted by Victoria Binkiewicz

I’ve always thought there was something up with these!

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