Int US 8200 Folder Collection
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There are so many different kinds of date labels.
Best if used by.
Use or freeze by.
Creme fraiche.
I don't even know what creme fraiche is.
Bottled on.
Packed on.
Enjoy by.
Enlarged for texture.
Oh that's something else.
It can be REALLY confusing to know what all these labels indicate.
A lot of times you just throw away food that's past whatever date you see.
But you're actually throwing away tons of perfectly good food, because many times, these dates don't mean what you think they mean.
Say you have a carton of eggs with a label that says "sell by January 1st"
If they're in your fridge past that date, you might throw them away, thinking they're probably bad.
But "sell by" is just a label for retailers to know when it's time to take food off their shelves so they can manage their inventory.
It actually doesn't tell you anything about the safety of those eggs.
And that's not the only misleading label on your food.
Part of the problem is that there are way too many labels to begin with.
Walmart, one of the biggest food retailers in the country, surveyed its label suppliers and found a total of 47 different kinds of date labels on their products.
Almost all of these labels indicate the quality of food.
Manufacturers put down dates to suggest when food will be at its best or when its taste and freshness will start to deteriorate.
These labels are useful indicators of food quality, but they're widely misinterpreted as a sign of food safety.
This national survey found that about 84% of people would at least occasionally throw away food that's past the date on labels.
This confusion around date labels has created a massive food waste problem in the United States.
All the uneaten food waste costs us over $200 billion each year, and two thirds of that comes from households.
It costs the average family of four somewhere between $1,500 and $1,800 a year to purchase food that then ends up in the trash.
And I think it's probably not a family in America that wouldn't like to have $1,500 dollars back in their pockets.
This is Joanne Berkenkamp, a senior advocate at an environmental group that has studied the impact of food labels.
People often assume that they're federally regulated.
And in fact that's not the case with the exception of infant formula.
So it really is up to food manufacturers to figure out what they're going to do with those dates on their particular products.
Yeah, the label makes sense if you're a little baby, but for everything else, it's often up to the state governments to decide if they want date labels and what those labels should say.
That's where it gets really confusing.
In Georgia for example the law says that "Expiration Date" is interchangeable with "Best by," "Best before," "Use by," and "Sell by" dates.
But in Minnesota a product needs to have a "Quality Assurance Date" which can be a date of manufacture or packaging, a freshness date, an expiration date, or a shelf display date.
And a state like New York says, date labels?
Forget about it!
I don't deserve love.
In total 41 states plus Washington DC require some kind of food date label.
So there's this real amalgam of different rules from one state to another and that contributes to confusion for consumers.
And it also makes it harder for food processors and manufacturers to comply with those rules.
You know, most larger food companies are shipping food across state lines and so trying to comply with that patchwork of regulations is just tough for the food businesses as well.
So what can be done to fix this labeling problem?
Many experts think that the best solution would be a federal regulation that standardizes all date labels.
And what would this new label say?
One way to avoid confusion would be to remove visible "sell by" dates.
Instead, packages could have a scannable barcode that would still allow stores to track their inventory without confusing customers.
Another way would be to standardize labels for safety and for quality.
Foods where there is a safety risk could say "safe if used by," which wouldn't be applied to most foods that don't really expire.
For quality they could say "peak quality guaranteed before" instead of just "best by."
Having a standardized label would remove a lot of confusion, but even then, we shouldn't treat these dates like gospel — when you're trying to decide if your food is safe to eat, your best bet is still just trusting your senses.
And if we all band together and do our part, maybe, just maybe, I can some day figure out what creme fraiche is.
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It's not you. Date labels on food make no sense.

8200 Folder Collection
Charlotte Chou published on September 21, 2018    Charlotte Chou translated    Rachel Kung reviewed
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