Just days ago we learned that food waste is the third biggest source of climate changing C02 emissions. Now, a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) points to misleading expiration date labels as one reason why so much edible food ends up in the landfill.
A whopping 40 percent of the food produced in America never gets eaten because of a couple of tiny numbers printed on the packaging. To most people, a food's expiration date, often printed next to the words "best if used by," is law: just one day past the stated date and the entire thing goes in the trash. According to the NRDC report, however, these dates have absolutely nothing to do with food safety.
"The FDA, in its own words, leaves date labels on food, except for infant formula, to 'the discretion of the manufacturer,' " writes Peter Lehner for the NRDC Switchboard blog. "The USDA, which oversees meat, poultry, and some egg products, also says date labels are voluntary."
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"According to the federal government, a date can be there, or not be there; and if it is there, the manufacturer can decide what it means without any further explanation for consumers," Lehner continues.
Unfortunately, no one has explained this to the average consumer. So a majority of American families toss perfectly edible food into the trash can, thinking they're avoiding a bout of food poisoning, when in fact they're just poisoning the planet with food waste.
"People should focus more on how they store food and less on how soon it should be used, Ted Labuza, professor of Food Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, told reporters on a press call. It isn't true that past-date food is always unsafe to consume and, likewise, pre-date food isn't always safe to consume."
The NRDC recommends an immediate overhaul of the food expiration label system to stem the tide of unnecessary food waste. "Manufacturers and retailers should have their own, coded system for sharing information relevant to food display and shelf life, rather than a 'sell by' date that confuses consumers."