According to a new report published by The Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard's Food Law and Policy Clinic, 9 out of 10 Americans throw away perfectly edible food because of inconsistent labeling of expiration dates and sell-by dates. The report explains the confusion consumers feel over the dates stamped on food packaging and they propose improvements to current policies to help curve the problem.
Many consumers do not understand what the dates on their food products actually mean. Many think the dates designate food safety when in reality they are indicating freshness, not spoilage. Evidence shows that consumers rely too heavily on label dates resulting in food being thrown out over unfounded safety concerns. Experts suggest that consumers focus on more relevant risk factors regarding their food, such as time and temperature control.
The researchers found that inconsistency of terms and dates on packages complicate the matter for consumers. They are calling for national standardization of the words used on packages and clarification to clearly distinguish between safety-based dates and quality-based dates. This would eliminate the commonly found and confusing "sell by " label on consumer packaging as it only pertains to retailers.
When it comes to food safety, common sense is the best defense. "Use-by " dates are only estimates and if your food shows no sign of spoilage then it is most likely still edible. It is always better to err on the side of caution if you feel your food has expired, but do not rely solely on the date stamped on the package until measures are taken to standardize dates and labels on food packaging.