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Americans Mistakenly Toss Food Over “Use By” Dates [AUDIO]

There are estimates that the average family of four throws away more than $1,500 worth of food every year and most of it is perfectly good.

ground beef
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

That’s because there is a lot of confusion over the “use by” and “sell by” dates on the package.

“The ‘use by’ and ‘sell by’ dates do not mean that food is bad after that time,” said Emily Broad Leib, Director of Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. “These dates were originally intended to indicate freshness to consumers and in fact, they have no link with safety. They are just a manufacturer’s guess of when the food is going to be at its peak quality. Unfortunately, many Americans are throwing perfectly good food away because they don’t understand the labeling.”

Studies show that more than 90 percent of Americans throw food away on the ‘sell by’ date because they are afraid there is a safety risk.

“That ‘sell by’ date was traditionally used to communicate from manufacturers to retailers to let retailers know that if they sell it up until that date, the consumers still have days, a week or even more to experience the peak quality of that food,” said Leib. “There has never been a federal regulation over these dates because it has never been a safety issue.”

“There has never been a single instance of food poisoning or food borne illness linked to someone eating food past a ‘use by’ or ‘sell by’ date,” said Leib. “The traditional ‘when in doubt, throw it out’ motto has led to such high rates of wasted food and money. Consumers should smell the food and even taste it. If it smells bad or tastes bad, that’s one thing. But, don’t throw it away simply because of the date on the package.”

“We’d like to see a change in federal policy so that these dates will be more standardized on products and the language will be more clear to consumers to eliminate this confusion,” said Leib.

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