Food dating has little to do with safety. Dates are more loosely related to the quality of the food and the manufacturer’s best estimate of when a food is at its freshest. Many foods are still good to eat days, weeks, or even months after the date stamped on the package.
In 1968 a sunken Civil War steamboat was found on the Missouri River. Several cans of food were recovered and the food was still edible almost a century later. Yet, today we think modern canned food expires in a few months. Studies show that up to 90% of consumers misinterpret date labels and throw out food prematurely.
Best before, use by, best by, best if used by are all dates that refer to quality not food safety. It is the date set by the brand for optimum freshness. If the food is not mishandled – opened, thawed and refrozen – it is completely safe to eat after the date passes.
Sell by date are meant for the store staff. They are, again, set by the brand or the local government to insure stock rotation. Sell by dates actually build in quality so that you are assured that if the food is sold by that date, you can still take it home and have a reasonable shelf-life left to eat the food.
At the end of 2016 the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) took action to help make expiration dates on eggs, meat, and dairy foods less confusing in an attempt to cut back on food waste. The USDA is hoping to encourage manufacturers and retailers to use one universal Best If Used By date label for these foods to avoid the confusion caused by the roughly 50 different versions of dating currently being used nationwide. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the sale of most other foods in the US and they have not yet taken a similar stand on date labeling.
We are throwing out $162 billion worth of perfectly good food each year. This not only wastes food, but it wastes money, water and the natural resources needed to grow the food that is never eaten.
· 28% of the world’s farmland, an area larger than Canada, is used to grow food that is never eaten
· 25% of the US fresh water supply goes into producing food that is never eaten
· Food waste is the largest component of solid waste in US landfills
In 2016 the Obama administration set a target to reduce food waste by 50% by the year 2030. The United Nations issued a similar worldwide goal shortly thereafter. Since consumers are responsible for the bulk of all food waste, there is a lot each of us can do to achieve this goal.
Start with a shopping list. Research has shown that shoppers who use a written list – only about 25% of us do – have lower grocery bills, make fewer shopping trips, and waste less food. A shopping list makes it less likely you will overbuy foods you may already have on hand and cuts down on impulse buys. Big box superstores also promote overbuying by encouraging super-sizing of many foods, a good deal of which never gets eaten.
Fresh vegetables, which we buy with good intentions, may look wilted before we get around to using them. They may not be good raw but they can still add value to a cooked dish. Or, try an ice water bath for 5 to 10 minutes. Bendy carrots get stiff, lettuce crisps, and limp broccoli will regain its strength after an ice water bath.
If you cook too much – freeze the leftovers. Freeze in portion sizes for quick meals. Even scrambled raw eggs can be frozen for future use. Make sure to label and date frozen leftovers so that don’t grow old in the freezer.
Most Americans don't give food waste a thought as they toss perfectly good food in the trash. They should. When it comes to food we need to adopt the only-buy-what-we-need and use-it-up mindset.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:
Healthy Wholefoods Counter
Complete Food Counter
Fat and Cholesterol Counter
Available in print from Gallery Books:
Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.
Your Complete Food Counter App: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/your-complete-food-counter/id444558777?mt=8
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: www.TheNutritionExperts.com.