Food waste is a huge issue all around the world. An estimated 8 million lbs of food are prematurely wasted every year, and many people don’t realize that they are throwing away perfectly good food. Studies show that, up to 25% of America’s freshwater, and almost 30% of the world’s agricultural land is used each year to produce food that goes to waste. Food waste is also the single largest component of waste in US landfills and has a massive carbon footprint.
(courtesy of The Week)
Some of this food waste can be contributed to the expiration dates that are stamped on a majority of the food we buy. There is some confusion about what those dates really mean and can lead people to throwing away food too early because most products are still safe to eat after their expiration date. Due to the confusion surrounding ‘sell-by’ or ‘use-by’ dates, a new analysis shows more than 90% of Americans throw out food prematurely, and 40% of the U.S. food supply is wasted, because of food dating.
The dates on food have very little to do with safety and are often there to protect the reputation of the food. Food dating began in the 1970’s because Americans wanted more information regarding their food. The dates indicate peak freshness, and expiring does not mean inedible. Package dates are unregulated by the federal government and can vary from state to state because there’s no standardization. The only exception is infant formula, which is federally regulated since the nutrients can lose their potency. For example, milk in Connecticut must have a ‘sell-by’ date of 12 days, and in Pennsylvania, it’s 14 days. The wording can be confusing, when one brand of milk says, ‘best before’, or ‘sell-by’, and some just have the date with no words at all. Manufacturers can come up with their own dates and own labels for their products, which can be misleading for consumers.
(courtesy of General Mills, and NBC news)
You might be asking yourself about the fear of getting sick from food that has gone bad. The shelf life is not the issue, but whether or not the food is contaminated with salmonella, listeria bacteria, or E. coli. John Ruff, the president of the Institute of Food Technologists, told NPR, “In 40 years, in eight countries, if I think of major product recalls and food poisoning outbreaks, I can’t think of one that was driven by a shelf-life issue”. So while it is crucial to have expiration dates on food that has a high risk of contamination, such as meat and cheese, you’re more likely to get sick from contamination rather than spoilage.
Food waste is such a predominant issue in our society, but thankfully there are multiple solutions that can reduce the impact. The US Senate and House of Representatives have introduced bills that would change the labels on food, and have more standardization. There’s also a public service campaign, called Save The Food, which can help consumers with waste reduction tips and how to store food properly. The company ReFED is doing a great job with food waste prevention and showing solutions that can save food, alleviate hunger, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and more.
(courtesy of ReFED)