March 8 2017 08:00 AM

New labeling on the horizon could help cut back on food waste.

Just about every packaged food item at the grocery store comes with an “expiration” or “sell by” date on the label. My inclination is that most people heed these guidelines, but are those labels unintentionally leading us astray?

The truth is that most foods don’t really expire, and even if they lose some flavor or quality because they are not as fresh, foods are perfectly safe to eat after the sell by date.

A recent National Public Radio (NPR) blog explained that federal law actually does not require expiration dates, though some states do require dates on milk and meat. Most food companies use them, however, to protect the reputation of their goods. Understandably, they want consumers to eat their products when they taste the best.

Unfortunately, these label dates may be a contributing factor to the extreme amount of food that is wasted in this country. Some estimates indicate that upward of 40 percent of food is unused and thrown away in the United States.

Personally, I am very picky about expiration and sell by dates. I realize most foods are fine to eat after that date printed on the label, but it is my tendency to be overly cautious and toss those food items out, sometimes before the date even passes. I’ve always played it safe rather than sorry when it comes to following the labels.

To make things simpler for consumers and to keep food out of the trash, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute are advising their food manufacturers and retailer members to stop using expiration and sell by dates.

Instead, they want them to use the labels “Best if used by” and “Use by.” Most foods would fall under the “Best if used by” category, while “Use by” would be attached to foods that become less safe to eat over time.

With a more unified labeling system, consumers, including myself, could feel more confident in consuming foods in their refrigerator or cupboards. This would save consumers money and keep good food out of landfills, which benefits us all.


Abby Bauer

The author is an associate editor and covers animal health, dairy housing and equipment, and nutrient management. She grew up on a dairy farm near Plymouth, Wis., and previously served as a University of Wisconsin agricultural extension agent. She received a master’s degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor’s from University of Wisconsin-Madison.


David Reid, D.V.M.

Join us on March 13 at noon CST for our next webinar, "Making use of all that parlor data" by David Reid, D.V.M. The presenter will be David Reid, D.V.M., of Rocky Ridge Dairy Consulting. This webinar will review a Dairy Comp305 parlor performance summary, which provides insight into managing cows, people and milking equipment. The goal is to understanding what the numbers mean, how they are calculated, and how to use them to motivate employees.

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