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Don’t Believe The Lies of So-Called “Expired” Food Labels

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Friday, August 6, 2021


Many Americans and Canadians are throwing away perfectly good, safe and edible food for no rational reason. For some, a sense of anxiety wells up if they were to eat the allegedly now “poisonous” food. This is all based on faulty and confusing information that food companies make no effort whatsoever to clarify. The $$$$ reasons are obvious.

The food waste today in America and Canada is frankly criminal, especially with so many in need:

“The statistics are damning. Forty percent of food produced in America heads to the landfill or is otherwise wasted. That adds up. Every year, the average American family throws out somewhere between $1,365 and $2,275, according to a landmark 2013 study co-authored by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council ….. Environmentally it’s bad, too. The study found that 25 percent of fresh water in the US goes toward producing food that goes uneaten, and 21 percent of input to our landfills is food, which represents a per-capita increase of 50 percent since 1974. Right now, landfills are piled high with wasted food, most of which was perfectly fine to eat — and some of which still is.”

The so-called “expiration” dates are not what people think:

“Date labels first started appearing in the decades following World War II, as American consumers increasingly moved away from shopping at small grocery stores and farms and toward supermarkets, with their rows of packaged and curated options. At first, manufacturers printed a date code on cans and packages for the benefit of the grocer, so they’d have a guideline for when to rotate their stock. The label was not designed for consumers. But since shoppers wanted to buy the freshest food on the shelf, savvy folks started publishing booklets that gave a guide for deciphering the codes.

“Eventually, producers — seeing that shoppers actually wanted to know what those secret dates were — started including more clearly readable dates on the packages, with month, day, and year. They saw it as a marketing boon; it was a way to attract consumers and signify that your food was fresh and flavorful. Consumers loved it, and the so-called ‘open date’ labels became common. But there was little consistency about them.

“And while the federal government made some attempts beginning in the 1970s to enact legislation that would standardize what those labels mean across the country, they failed. (The exception is infant formula, for which there are strict federal guidelines.) Instead, the burden fell on state (and sometimes local) legislatures, which passed laws that varied wildly, often relying on voluntary industry standards. One state might never require labels; another may mandate that the freshness label on milk have a date of 21 days after bottling; a third may set the same date at 14 days. State-to-state discrepancies can be costly for manufacturers, who had to come up with ways to produce multiple labels for multiple regions. But it’s also baffling to consumers.

“The labels are inconsistent, too. What the label actually indicates varies from producer to producer. So you might have a ‘best by’ label on one product, a ‘sell by’ label on another, and a ‘best if used before’ label on a third. Those have different meanings, but the average consumer may not immediately realize that, or even notice there’s a difference.”

The ominous dates have almost nothing to do with food safety:

“Most packaged foods are perfectly fine for weeks or months past the date. Canned and frozen goods last for years. That package of chips you forgot about that’s a month out of date isn’t going to kill you — they just might be a tiny bit less crunchy than you’d like. The huge exception is foods like deli meats and deli salads, which won’t be reheated before they’re consumed and can pick up listeria in the production process — but that’s the exception, not the rule. You can check for the freshness of eggs by trying to float them in a glass of water (if it sinks, it’s good). Properly pasteurized milk, which is free of pathogens, should be fine if it tastes and smells fine. But many of us, with the best of intentions, just look at what the label says and throw out what’s old.”

The major food corporations have selfishly snoozed on this issue, more than happy to dupe the public and perpetuate the lies:

Chef, journalist, and culinary author Tamar Adler: “It’s in the general interest of anybody trying to sell anything to continue to perpetuate the illusion that our foods are going bad all the time. We could buy half as much food.” Adler noted that our penchant for buying more than we need and then throwing out food that’s gone slightly past its peak is rooted, at its core, in a consumer mindset. “The only way that makes sense is if your cultural value is unfettered growth and profit at all costs,” she said. “There’s no other way that it makes sense to just throw stuff out.”

Americans and Canadians can learn from other cultures:

Adler: “‘The whole idea that mold and bacteria are to be avoided at all costs is not only antithetical to good cooking, but it’s literally not practiced’ in most cultures.’ Salami and cheese and pickles and sauerkraut and all kinds of food come from the natural process of aging — ‘in most cuisines of the world, there’s not as great a distinction between new food and old food; they’re just ingredients that you’d use differently,’ she said. Those traditions certainly have been retained in regions where Americans still make kimchi and half-sours and farm cheese. But we’ve absorbed over time the idea that those natural processes are bad and will make us sick. Instead, we rely on companies to tell us what food is good for us and when to get rid of it.”

Many people don’t get enough to eat because of this unsubstantiated paranoia:

“Some states bar grocery stores from donating or selling out-of-date foods to food banks and other services designed to help those living with food insecurity. The thinking is reasonable, even altruistic: Why would we give sub-par food to the ‘poor’? If I wouldn’t eat ‘expired’ food, why would I give it to others? Distributors fear legal threats if someone eats past-dated food and becomes ill (something that has rarely happened, but it’s still a looming threat).”

The finicky consumer is also to blame:

“In many places, if you can’t sell all your milk by the sell-by date, you have to dump it. Consumers don’t want to buy a box of Cheez-Its that only has a week left on it. Beef that ‘expires’ in two days is not going to fly off the shelves. And if you can’t sell all your carrots, some of those carrots are going to start getting a little bendy. And many grocery stores will only sell produce that’s up to a certain aesthetic standard — no weird-looking apples or sweet potatoes from outer space, everything the same shape and size. Furthermore, if a manufacturer changes the label on their cookie packages, all the old packages will probably just be discarded to maintain uniformity.”

Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods:

“Some businesses have cropped up to try to fix this larger-scale problem, like Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods. They form relationships with producers to rescue aesthetically ‘ugly’ food — or at least, food we’ve been trained to think is ugly or too small or too large — and sell it to customers. They also buy food that’s approaching its label date and resell it to customers, hoping to cut down on food waste and change the way people eat. ‘It’s all about breaking down misconceptions,’ Imperfect Foods’ associate creative director, Reilly Brock, told me by phone. ‘Food is not Cinderella. It’s not going to turn back into a pumpkin by midnight if it reaches the date on the label.’”

Good solutions moving at a snail’s pace:

“Quite a bit has happened in the years since Broad Leib and her colleagues first published their study. Seeing the problem, two major associations (the Consumer Brands Association and the Food Marketing Institute) put together a working group to design a standard date label that would work for both businesses and consumers. ‘They came up with a ‘best if used by’ label for a quality date and ‘use by’ for a safety date,’ Broad Leib told me. ‘And they got a bunch of their members to sign on to voluntarily shift to using those dates.’ In other words, if a food won’t decrease in safety but might decrease in quality, the manufacturer would use the ‘best if used by’ label; if it might become unsafe to eat, they’d use the ‘use by’ label. That system corresponds roughly to a standard used in many other countries……

“We need a public health program to educate people about what’s safe to eat. The UK has done a series of campaigns toward that end, with the slogan ‘Look, Smell, Taste, Don’t Waste,’ in which it partnered with industry to help people understand when to keep their food and when to toss it. We need to ask for more clear labels, advocate for better legislation, and talk to one another about what labels really mean. And we need to move closer to food again, thinking of it less as a packaged consumer product and more as something natural that nourishes us as humans.”

Source: The lie of “expired” food and the disastrous truth of America’s food waste problem                                  https://www.vox.com/22559293/food-waste-expiration-label-best-before

Further Reading

Is 'Expired' Milk Safe to Drink? Here's How to Know When to Throw Away Food https://www.discovermagazine.com/health/is-expired-milk-safe-to-drink-heres-how-to-know-when-to-throw-away-food

Related Posts

10 Things To Know Before Buying OLIVE OIL  https://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2020/07/10-things-to-know-before-buying-olive.html

Exposing 9 More Misleading Food Industry Practices  http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2014/05/exposing-9-more-misleading-food_5533.html  

10 Food Industry Deceptive Claims     http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2014/04/10-food-industry-deceptive-claims.html  

Food Alert: The “Best Before” Dating Game http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2016/05/food-alert-best-before-dating-game.html

Photo: https://green.harvard.edu/tools-resources/video/expired-food-waste-america  

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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