Each year, Americans trash approximately 40% of the US food supply because the food is beyond the date of expiration. It is estimated that 90% of Americans throw out food prematurely and this is largely due to the confusion surrounding food expiration dates.
Food expiration dates (use-by, sell-by) do not mean that food is not safe to consume after the date. In other words, just because a food is consumed after an expiration date, does not mean it will increase your chances of getting a foodborne illness (food poisoning) or sickness. In fact, FoodNet Data reported that 58% of foodborne illnesses originated from commercial food facilities such as clubs or restaurants. This means that most of the time, if you get “food poison,” it is coming from eating outside of the home.
What Does the Expiration Date Tell Us?
The expiration date is a frame of reference for determining the freshness of the product. Most manufacturers provide use-by or sell-by dates to inform us consumers when a food is at its “peak.”
Many unrefrigerated foods can be consumed well after use-by or sell-by dates without any risk for food borne illnesses or sickness. For example, a box of macaroni and cheese might have a use-by date of Jan 1, 2014, but there’s nothing wrong with consuming it during a New Year’s Day party in 2015. Another example is for eggs, which can be safely consumed 3 to 5 weeks after purchase. Consuming eggs 3 to 5 weeks after purchase is usually quite a bit later than the use-by or sell-by date and will not be harmful.
Researchers are hoping the food industry will eventually clarify the expiration dates to help consumers by saying something like, “the food is most likely to spoil on (date)”.
True Health U’s Take
While it’s a good idea to trash some fruits, veggies, milk or other perishables when they’ve gone bad, pay attention to the use-by and sell-by dates of the products you buy. Rushing to trash some products after the use-by or sell-by date because of a fear of a foodborne illness or sickness may be throwing your money away.
Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic