Currently, inflation is driving up the cost of living across the board. And this extends to groceries.
Many people are racking up sky-high credit card tabs to stock up on essentials at the supermarket. And worse, they’re falling into the trap of prematurely disposing of their goods, wasting money in the process.
But are consumers responsible for food waste? Not completely. While some of us could do a better job of taking inventory at home before shopping and planning meals to avoid food waste, more often than not, we’re tempted to throw out products prematurely because of the confusing way they’re labeled.
Are food labels leading you astray?
Walk the supermarket aisles, and you’ll likely notice many different label deals on items you normally buy. Some items may have a “sell by” date. Others may have a “best buy” date. Then there are those who “enjoy the day.”
All of these labels can be very confusing, as they make it very difficult to determine when food should be thrown away and when it is safe to eat. And because there is no national standard for determining how to assign a product’s expiration date, manufacturers can use whatever language they want — even if it’s difficult to understand.
Take “have fun” for example. If a food item is marked “Enjoy until August 15th,” does that mean the item will no longer be delicious come August 16th? And in that case, don’t consumers get a little pleasure from simply eating it, or is it unsafe?
It’s hard to know. That’s why it’s so important to go down – not to waste money on discarded products.
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How to browse food labels
It’s a big misconception that a food’s “sell by” date is the last day it can be eaten. Rather, the “sell by” date is simply the date on which producers are advised to eat their produce – perhaps to optimize taste or freshness. But to be clear, food with a “sell by” date of August 15 may be safe to eat on August 25. So, you can use the “sell by” date as a guide or suggestion. The gospel.
That means you can generally take more liberties with canned goods and canned goods than with dairy, meat, and produce. If you bought poultry on the August 15 “on sale” date, you’ll probably want to try cooking or freezing it that day. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat until that day. You can cook your chicken on the 15th and eat it within the next few days.
Of course, it’s important to always use common sense in conjunction with the expiration date to determine whether or not something is safe to eat. If you have milk in the house on the August 15th “sell by” date, but August 18th smells good and tastes good, go ahead and drink it. But if that milk smells sour on August 14th or if it spills in the tank, throw it away.
Are there any changes at work?
Late last year, the Food Day Labeling Act of 2021 was introduced and aims to require manufacturers to only use the words “use by” or “best before” on products. The logic is that more consistent labeling language can lead to less food waste. So far, that bill has yet to become law. If so, it could help save consumers a world of wasted food — and money.
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