Sept 23 - Misleading Dates Contribute To Food Waste

Those relying on "freshness" and "sell by" dates to decide when to throw away food may be wasting it unintentionally. According to, Americans may be throwing away perfectly good food due to fear of foodborne illness, when in reality those dates have nothing to do with food safety. A study by NRDC says they are primarily used for inventory control.

While some labels are intended to indicate freshness, none of them reflects edibility or safety, said Ted Labuza, a food science professor at the University of Minnesota who collaborated with the authors.

"If food looks rotten and smells bad, throw it away, but just because it reaches a certain date does not mean the food is unsafe," Labuza said. "I don't know of any food poisoning outbreak that came from people eating food that was past its shelf-life date."

In addition to wasting perfectly good food, this practice contributes to the production of Greenhouse Gas. Food rotting in landfills produces methane, which is 25 times more powerful than Carbon Dioxide.

Wasting food also squanders vast quantities of water, land, fertilizers, petroleum, packaging and other resources that go into producing it. About a quarter of all fresh water used in the United States goes into the making of food that is thrown away, the report said.

Authors of the study are calling for a standardized labeling system that is focused on food safety, rather than shelf life.

Microbes, which cause food to taste, smell or feel bad, often show up before pathogens, he said, which means food is likely to become unappetizing before it makes a person sick. Food poisoning comes from pathogens that can enter the food chain at any point, from field to kitchen counter, Labuza said. Careless handling by consumers or businesses who leave food sitting in a hot car or loading dock are often culprits.

Even if food is bad, the last place it should go is to the landfill. Composting and anaerobic digestion processes turn food scraps into fertilizer and renewable energy.

Read more about confusing food date labels.

Photo credit: Food Safety News

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