Magazine article USA TODAY

Expiration Date Confusion Proves Costly

Magazine article USA TODAY

Expiration Date Confusion Proves Costly

Article excerpt

Consumers and businesses needlessly trash billions of pounds of food every year as a result of the U.S.'s dizzying array of expiration date labeling practices, which needs to be standardized and clarified, according to a report coauthored by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic.

One key finding from an industry-conducted survey: more than 90% of Americans may be tossing food prematurely because they misinterpret food labels as indicators of food safety.

"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," indicates Dana Gunders, NRDC staff scientist with the Food and Agriculture Program. "Phrases like, 'sell by ... ,' 'use by ... ,' and 'best before ... are poorly regulated, misinterpreted, and lead to a false confidence in food safety. It is time for a well-intended--but wildly ineffective--food date labeling system to get a makeover."

For the vast majority of food products, manufacturers are free to determine date shelf life according to their own methods. The report finds that the confusion created by this range of poorly regulated and inconsistent labels leads to results that undermine the intent of the labeling, including:

* False notions that food is unsafe. Some 91% of consumers occasionally throw food away based on the "sell by" date out of a mistaken concern for food safety even though none of the date labels actually indicate food is unsafe to eat.

* An estimated 20% of food wasted in households is due to misinterpretation of date labels. The average household of four is losing $275-$455 per year on food needlessly trashed.

* An estimated $900,000,000 worth of expired food is removed from the supply chain every year. …

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