Sell By – Use By – Wasting Cash Due to Confusing Food Labels?
Resources to help you shop smarter and tell when it’s safe to eat food
Smart food shoppers routinely check food expiration dates to get the freshest foods for themselves and their families. However, each year we throw out millions of dollars’ worth of perfectly safe, healthy food because of confusing food labeling. Even the smartest consumers misread common labels found on a variety of foods.
“Estimating Quantities and the Types of Food Waste at the City Level,” a report produced in 2017 by the Natural Resources Defense Council®1*, estimated that Americans throw out around $218 billion of food a year. Confusion over date labeling on packages is also thought to be a contributing factor to this waste, and some groups are fighting to get these date labels adjusted to stop this. A 2016 national survey conducted by Harvard, National Consumer League, and John Hopkins2 reported that over one third, 37%, of Americans, say they always throw out food if it is past the date on the package. However, that may not always be necessary.
Here’s a quick guide to food product labeling that may help you avoid waste and save money on your food budget each year.
The Sell By label is designed to provide grocers with dates after which a product’s shelf life starts to degrade. Unfortunately, many consumers toss food that’s past the sell by date, even though the food is not only safe, it’s still nutritional. Many foods keep their nutrients after the sell by date, and if properly sealed, or unopened, many foods are still safe and nutritious well after the sell by date.
Of course, use good sense. If the sell by date is four years ago, it’s probably a good idea to toss that food item and buy fresh.
The Best Before label indicates the food manufacturer’s estimate of when the product reaches and passes its peak taste and nutritional value.
Although the best before label is a measure of quality of the food, most foods remain safe to eat after the best before date, according to the Dating Game report.
Once again, if the food is long past the best before date, if it looks funny, smells bad or you just aren’t sure, better to be safe than sorry. Toss it if it’s questionable.
On the other hand, if the food is a few days beyond the “best used by” date, chances are it’s safe to eat, still has nutrients, and you won’t know that Thursday’s dinner was best used by Tuesday.
There aren’t any national standards from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to direct food manufacturers to indicate the date by which food products, or medicines, should be used. However, the use by date is a good indicator of when you should toss something out.
Basic Food Safety – Do Your Research
So, how do you know for sure whether a food is past its prime, but still edible and nutritious? While the federal government has yet to sort through the food product labeling confusion, the government does provide a great deal of excellent information on just how long different foods remain fresh, healthful and safe to eat.
One good place to start is www.foodsafety.gov.3 Here you’ll find recommended storage times for a variety of perishable foods. For instance, most meats can be stored safely in the refrigerator for a few days, and in the freezer for up to a few months.
Want to become a smarter shopper and a more savvy consumer? Learn more about food product dating at the Food Safety and Inspection Service4 website.
Each year, we throw out foods because we think they’ve passed their freshness dates, but in fact, we’re throwing away money. Take a little time to check the labels on the products you purchase at the supermarket.
Keep track of use by dates once the foods are in your home, and don’t necessarily toss foods that have passed the sell by date. Those foods may be just fine.
Food product labeling can be confusing, but smart consumers can still save on food costs simply by understanding the difference between sell by, best used by, and use by printed on the products in their homes.
*Natural Resources Defense Council is the registered trademark of Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. and Nevada State Bank does not claim any ownership or exclusive right to the use of this trademark.
The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of Zions Bancorporation, N.A. Member FDIC