Is it Past the Expiration Date? Date Labeling Confusion

food waste and expiration labels

You open up your fridge and reach into its deep dark depths to pull out the yogurt you bought ages ago that you suddenly have an intense craving for. The only thing standing in between you and this delicious dairy dessert is that small menacing date printed on the lid. According to the date, it was “best by” approximately two days ago. So what do you do; do you toss it or eat it? Most people would typically deem the yogurt as toxic waste waiting to sabotage the natural balance of your intestinal tract, so they throw it out. However if you are like me, you have learned that date labeling on foods are often misleading and unrelated to food safety.

Confusion over date labeling is a major contributor to food waste. The amount of food and waste lost globally that was made for human consumption is approximately 1.3 billion tons per year. In 2010, the United States had wasted nearly 31 percent of food produced for the store or home alone. That equals to 133 billion pounds of food! Date labels such as sell by, use by, and best by are predominately undefined in US law. In fact with the exception of infant formula, date labels are not regulated by the federal government. With the lack of federal involvement, the states are left to fill the void with inconsistent regulations. Essentially, these dates reflect the manufacturer’s guesses on peak quality as opposed to indicators of safety.

Let’s define these common date labels to generate more understanding. Sell By is the date, determined by the food product manufacturer, by which the food at retail should be sold. Typically, one-third of the product’s shelf life remains after sell by date for consumer use at home which in other words means that you can still consume the product after the sell by date. Use By is the date, determined by the food product manufacturer, by which the food should be consumed. Products should be discarded after the “use by” date. This is straightforward enough for anyone to understand.  Best By is the date by which the product should be consumed for ideal quality. Once a product is passed the best by date, it may be still good for consumption although it will not be up to the manufacturer’s standard of quality.

Unfortunately, I don’t have money to waste by throwing away food that is two days past the best by date. When in doubt, a good old fashioned sniff test is a pretty decent gauge on whether you should ingest a product labeled with a sell by or best by date. Your nose will never lie to you for profit.


Thelisha Aluc

My name is Thelisha Aluc and I was born in Providence, Rhode Island. My parents are from Haitian descent and came to the United States to gain an opportunity for my two siblings and I to have a better life. Although I was born up north, I was raised in sunny North Miami Beach, FL for about 15 years. I graduated from the University of South Florida with my bachelor’s degree in Public Health. My interest in environmental health first came from when I was at a young age. Living in Miami, we would receive testing kits issued by the city to test the quality of our tap water. My parents never understood the purpose of the kit so I decided to test the water myself. Ever since then, I’ve always had in interest in the environment around me. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Public Health from the University of South Florida. My goal is to gain a master’s degree in environmental health so that I can work within local government to improve water quality and recycling methods.

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