Did you know that up to 40% of the food in the U.S. is never eaten? Yes, FORTY PERCENT. It’s a crime that so much food is going to waste in our country, when you consider how many people don’t have enough food to begin with, not to mention the wasted resources and money that went into producing and buying that food.
Why is so much food going to waste? One of the biggest culprits are the dates printed on our food packaging. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic released a study last month explaining the problems behind our current date labeling system. While many of the suggestions they make for change would have to happen on a larger systemic level (think federal regulations), there are a lot of things we can do as normal, everyday, eating humans to help curtail the waste. Step 1 is understanding what the dates printed on food labels mean.
Have you ever thrown food away because it was past the date printed on the lid? I definitely have. All the time, in fact! Until I started reading the NRDC and Harvard study as well as the USDA website, I thought the dates were printed for safety reasons. Turns out that isn’t the case at all. Dates are printed on food to indicate the peak of freshness and quality. The dates are NOT there for safety and do not necessarily reflect how safe the food is to eat.
Is your mind blown? Me too!
To make it all the more confusing, there are no federal regulations for date labels on food. All but nine states have their own regulations in place, so wording and requirements are different from state-to-state.
Here are a few tips to help with reading dates on food labels properly as well as steps we can all take to stop throwing away perfectly good food!
If you would like to read more on the topic, here are a few great resources:
- USDA Food Product Dating Fact Sheet
- Summary of the NRDC and Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic report
- Full report from the NRDC and Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic