What Does That Food Expiration Date Really Mean?

40% of U.S. food supply is tossed out every year because of food dating.  So was does that “use-by” date really mean? A recent report from Natural Defense Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic say that because of the confusion surrounding the meaning of expiration dates, Americans are throwing out food prematurely.

The great misconception from consumers is that the date on the food connotes how safe it is to consume.  The problem is that these dates are not related to the risk of eating the food, but rather just how fresh the food is. Manufacturers use these dates to indicate the peak period of the freshness of the food.  Furthermore, non-refrigerated foods may even maintain this peak of freshness much longer, if still kept airtightly. So remember… expired foods will not necessarily make you sick!

What creates even more confusion concerns those newly applied phrases such as, “use by,” and “sell by.”  Because these labels are used so inconsistently, this caused more than 90% of Americans to throw out waste prematurely.  One example would be eggs. Though their expiration date is set very early after purchase, they can safely be used 3-5 weeks after purchase and be just fine.  Packaged, non-refrigerated food can be consumed (if unopened) sometimes even a year past the expiration date and not cause any harm.

The overall conclusion is that the food industry should change labels to read the date when food is most likely to spoil instead of when the food loses its peak freshness.