Removing Sell-By Dates Could Reduce Food Waste

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Removing Sell-By Dates Could Reduce Food Waste

September 22
09:08 2013
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A study published last week by Harvard Law School and the US Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that billions of pounds worth of edible food is thrown out every year because people believe that ‘sell-by’ or ‘best before’ dates indicate food safety.

They are in fact printed on the packaging to help retailers cycle through stock and to indicate when a product is at its optimum freshness. However they are confusing to customers, who then throw food out before it goes bad.

Emily Broad Lieb, who led the report from the Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, said “The labeling system is aimed at helping consumers understand freshness, but it fails – they think it’s about safety. And (consumers) are wasting money and wasting food because of this misunderstanding.”
NRDC scientist Dana Gunders said these labels are ultimately meaningless to customers because manufactures decide shelf life and dates on their own.

The study authors recommend that a more regulated date system should be introduced and ‘smart labels’, which rely on technology to provide food safety information, should be used more often. They also say that sell-by dates, which mean nothing to consumers, should be made invisible so they cannot be mistaken for a safety warning.

Report Suggests Consumers are Confused by Food Safety Labeling

The Food Marketing Institute, which represents food retailers and wholesalers in the US, said they disagreed with hiding codes from the naked eye as it would make it impossible for employees to stock shelves but that a clearer method of displaying dates should be found.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) pressed for a consistent federal food dating system in a statement released on Wednesday. She said the confusion caused people to throw out safe food prematurely or accidently consume spoiled food.

Dr. Theodore Labuza, University of Minnesota food safety scientist, disagrees. He said that in more than 30 years of researching date labels, he has never heard of a case of illness relating to food that was past the expiration date but still stored correctly.

He said, “People think the use-by date means either the product is going to die or you’re going to die if you eat it. And it’s just not true. You can’t tie shelf life to a date. If the food looks rotten and smells bad, you should throw it away, but just because it’s past the date on the package, it doesn’t mean it’s unsafe.”

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