Understanding Expiration Dates

Food waste is a nation-wide problem. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, U.S. food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. It ends up in landfills and is harmful to the environment because it emits methane, a greenhouse gas, as it decomposes. One factor in creating food waste is the misinterpretation of expiration labels and dates.

Studies show that fixing food date labels is the most cost-effective solution for reducing food waste. Some states, such as California, are working on legislation to standardize labels. Meanwhile, here’s how you can help:

Understand expiration labels
• “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. This product should be purchased before this date.
• “Best If Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. This refers strictly to quality, not safety.
• “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for use of the product. Discard product after this date.

Follow these tips when shopping
• Purchase the product before the expiration date.
• If perishable, take the food home immediately after purchase and refrigerate it promptly. Freeze it if you can’t use it within the time recommended on the label.
• Once a perishable product is frozen, it doesn’t matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.
• Follow handling recommendations on the product.

And of course, only purchase the amount you think you can use completely! For more on food waste prevention, read Food Waste Reduced: Check! and Take the Less Food Waste Challenge!

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