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Expired ‘Use-By’ Dates Don’t Necessarily Mean Spoiled Food

There is currently no national standard for date-stamps on food. As a result, a new study says consumers are throwing away lots of perfectly edible food.


Photo: John Loo (Flickr)

Did you know a carton of eggs can last up to five weeks after purchase?

Toss It Or Eat It?

According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, many consumers are throwing away food before it’s spoiled. This is in part due to confusion over the dates stamped on food labels.

Use-by typically means a product is freshest before that date. Meanwhile, sell-by means that although a store won’t sell after that date, customers can still expect the product purchased to be safe to eat for a period of time after buying.

Use-by or sell-by dates are meant as an indication of food quality, not as a hard and fast rule for food safety. Co-author of the study Emily Broad Leib told CNN, “You can make your own decision about whether a food still has an edible quality that’s acceptable to you.”

Currently — with the exception of baby formula — there is no national standard for date-stamps on food.

Combatting Confusion

Congress has attempted to pass laws standardizing food dates since 1973. The most recent campaign came in the form of the Freshness Disclosure Act, which is currently being re-drafted by Representative Nita Lowey (NY). But don’t hold your breath — this bill was originally introduced in 1999.

In the meantime, sites like Still Tasty provide a glossary of foods and their typical shelf life. (For instance, how long is that opened bottle of apple jelly at its highest quality?)

Read More:

  • Food expired? Don’t be so quick to toss it (CNN)
  • Weekend Reads: Food waste is getting deserved attention (Mother Nature Network)
  • Use by. Sell by. Doesn’t help us get by. (Washington Post)
  • Reducing Food Waste Could Reduce Food Need In Future (Earth Eats)
Liz Leslie

Liz Leslie is a journalist based in Chicago. When she's not writing about food, she's likely eating food. Or dreaming about food.

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