Food Dates And Why Americans Throw Out So Much

April 10, 2015, by Ken Jorgustin


40% of all food produced in the country ends up in the trash. And a big part of why Americans throw out so much food is because of the misunderstanding of the various dates that are printed on food packaging.

According to a statement by Emily Broad Leib, director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, nine out of ten Americans say they have thrown food away based on ‘the date’, because they are afraid that it’s not going to be safe.

Although this is unfortunate and very wasteful, I am not surprised! The various dates posted on food packaging often brings more confusion than useful information to the consumer.

Here’s a sampling:

Some food packaging will have just a date (with no other information)
For Best Taste, Use by
Sell by
Best by
Use by
Enjoy by
Display until

Most foods that have gone beyond ‘the date’ have a good chance of being thrown out.

Food date labels do not have much to do with safety, but they do have an effect of sales. Many grocery stores will remove the food from the shelves a few days before ‘the date’.

The average supermarket throws out $2000 worth of perfectly good food every day because of the so called ‘expiration’ dates, according to a USDA 2014 report. Similarly, 15 billion dollars of vegetables are tossed every year.

‘Use-by’ and ‘Best-by’ dates are the dates that the manufacturer deems the product reaches peak freshness.

‘Sell-by’ is a stocking and marketing date provided by food makers to ensure proper turnover of the products in the store.

The FDA has said they will not step in to regulate the so called ‘sell by’, ‘use by’, or ‘best by’ dates because they do not affect food safety.

So, next time you find a can or package of food in your food storage which is beyond ‘the date’, know that it does not have particular relevance with food safety.

Harvard Center For Health Law & Policy Innovation
USDA Economic Information Bulletin Number 121
WCVB5 Waste Warriors: Food Facts

4 Ways To Tell If A Dented Can Of Food Is Safe To Eat