Have you ever eaten something past its “expiration date” and thought the food was still fine? On the other side, have you ever thrown something out without checking its freshness first because of the date on the side? Food waste in the United States is out of control. It is estimated that 40% of all the food that is discarded in this country is due to the date stamped to the side of the container, even if the food is still perfectly good. Researchers have been looking into this whole food-waste problem and realizing there is a huge confusion issue on the whole idea behind dates on packaging. The findings clearly show that much of the food which we waste in this country is still very much edible.
Those who make the food often stamp labels to provide information regarding the date to consume if looking for the height of freshness. This includes many raw food snacks and even dairy products as well as pastas, chips and grains that may tend to take a stale taste after a while. Even chocolate has a “best by” date that helps the manufacturer avoid selling chocolate that has turned white, though in many of these cases the date does not signify that the product has gone bad – it’s just a little older.
Grocery stores have adopted the policy of discarding “outdated” products and along with restaurants, are responsible for the nearly 160 billion pounds of food waste in this country every year, most of which is still good to eat. What is being done about this?
New labeling laws are on track to replace the old, requiring certain dates, such as the “sell by” date to be invisible to customers. Apparently, this date is really only important for the retailer and tells very little about how much longer the food is good, it simply suggests that it the shelf life may be less than desired for someone to buy after this stamped time and then take home to shelf it again extensively. New dating practices could greatly reduce the amount of waste created by retailers and increase the available food supply to the consumers, lowing the need for re-order as soon.
There is a new supermarket in Boston set to take some of these “expired” foods and sell them to consumers. You may have heard of Trader Joe’s grocery store as they have been a very successful, less expensive retail chain reaching across the nation. Doug Rauch, who was one of the businessman behind this chain, is responsible for the new grocers in Boston who will apparently only sell “out dated” products. Some of those foods will be tortilla chips, yogurt, eggs, milk and chocolate – which have much longer lives than their dates usually express.
If you have ever been to another country, such as India or other third world nations, the realization often hits that they do not have the same kind of refrigeration as we do in the west and yet certain foods are fine – just sitting out on the counter. Eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese can stand up a lot longer than one might think without refrigeration, leading one to realize just how paranoid we have become in the west about our food and that little black date stamped on the side of the container.
Harvard Food Law recently released a report called The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America. For more detailed information on this study, see sources below. The summation of this report is that much of the wasted food in this country is still edible. How we go about changing the current predicament of excessive food waste will require relabeling laws and vigilant consumers. As for now, be certain, that much of the food dated as expired, still has some life in it. Use the smell and taste-test if it isn’t obviously bad and if it tastes good and smells good – it usually is.
Written by: Stasia Bliss