SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - How much stock do you put into that ‘sell-by’ label or ‘best by’ date at the grocery store?
According to food industry leaders these labels are used to help manufactures communicate the freshness of their product.
But confusion over what the labels mean is leading to throwing away food that is still ok to eat.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, about a third of the food produced in the United States is wasted.
There are more than a dozen different labels used to date food at the grocery store.
The Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturing Association hope by standardizing these labels they can cut down on food waste.
From boxed food to the refrigerator section, pretty much every food product has a date.
“This has a ‘sell by’ date so this would be an example of the manufacturer telling us that we can only display this product for this amount of time,” Pomegranate Market marketing director Kathleen Rhykus pointed out.
When the date on food starts to draw near, it can make people question if it's time to toss the item, but that's not the purpose of the date.
“They're representing the freshness, the best possible flavor of any certain product, and that’s not necessarily an indicator of food safety,” Rhykus said
“These are best for quality purposes, not for safety purposes. Any date that's on there, whether it’s a ‘purchase by’ date, ‘sell by’ date, and it is confusing because every label looks a little bit different,” Avera Heart Hospital registered dietician Marty Beth Russell explained.
So to stop the confusion, people could be seeing just two date labels.
‘Best if used by’ would signal the quality of the product.
The other would be ‘use by’.
“Where the date might indicate some deterioration in the nutrition quality, or maybe some concerns about handling, or preparation, where people should dispose of it after that date,” FMI senior director of sustainability, tax and trade Andy Harig said.
Harig says these two labels would help people save money…
“You hate to see people who paid their hard earned money for food throwing away something that is still safe, and wholesome, and would still be good,” Harig said.
And take a bite out of food waste.
Harig says the initiative to standardize the date labels is a volunteer effort within in the food industry.
FMI hopes that this can become an industry routine by the summer of 2018.
While date labels are just for manufacturer quality purposes, there is one specific food where consumers should always consider the date and that’s baby formula.
Russell says parents should never use baby formula after the date on the package.
Russell says with all other items, people should check to see if the food’s odor, color or texture has changed before throwing it out.
Russell says food borne illnesses are much more likely to occur from mishandling than from food going bad before it’s consumed.