Knowing When Food Goes Bad Is About to Get a Lot Easier
For most Americans, the real meaning of expiration dates is one of life's biggest mysteries. If a food item passes its expiration date, does that mean it's no longer edible? And what are the differences between the "sell by," "use by," and "best by" dates that are printed on most food containers?
According to a report from Consumerist, new legislation will be put forth this week in both the House and the Senate that could rectify our collective confusion once and for all by establishing a national standard for expiration labels.
The impetus for the respective bills of Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine is the country’s food waste epidemic.
Most of us believe that once a food item passes its expiration date, it's no longer safe to consume, and they usually end up discarding it. The USDA estimates that the average American wastes up to 36 pounds of perfectly good food each month.
As it stands now, it's difficult for consumers to distinguish between dates that signify a food item is no longer safe to eat and one that means it's started to decline in quality. The new bills would require manufacturers to label food items that are still safe to eat past a certain date with the words "best if used by," while perishable foods that pose a health risk if consumed after their expiration dates will be receive the straightforward "expires on" label.
But until these bills pass, it's worth noting what the different expiration labels that are currently the standard in food packaging really mean.
Sell by: This date is mainly to let store employees know how long an item is meant to stay on the shelf. Consumers can also use it to determine the freshness of a specific product.
Best by: While in no way does it refer to the safety of an item, it does indicate when an item is at its peak freshness.
Use by: This label indicates when a product begins to degrade in quality; it has no real bearing on the safety of a product.
Save time by using one of our favorite grocery delivery services available, and let us know if you're encouraged by the proposed expiration-date bills.