There is a common misunderstanding regarding “food expiration dates,” and we’re using quotes on this phrase because when it comes to food dating, the term “expiration date” is not correct. All food items are coded with a Best by or Sell by date, which have completely different meanings.
Food does not expire. It does spoil after some time, but the term “expire” has not been properly used, creating many problems. There are a couple of key factors such as manufacturer’s quality, federal regulations, food safety, and environmental issues that are taken in consideration as we write this article; but to keep things simple, our aim is to inform and educate our bargain-hunting community about the best practices when it comes to food finds and buying perishable items.
Think Twice Before Tossing Your Food Finds
Again, food does not expire. It is simply labeled with a Best by or Sell by date that indicates the manufacturer’s quality of their product, meaning that this item is guaranteed by the manufacturer to stay fresh until that day, but that is all there is.
“Currently, more than 10 different date labels on packages – such as Sell By, Use By, Expires On, Best Before, Better if Used By or Best By – can result in confused consumers discarding a safe or usable product after the date on the package.”
– Food Marketing Institute
It is the way that manufacturers deal with quality control, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the product has gone bad or that it is no longer safe to eat. By using this nomenclature, manufacturers have been confusing consumers into thinking they need to toss dated items. As a result, consumers lose money (approximately $165 billion according to the FDA) since they’re are encouraged into thinking they need to buy more goods.
If you toss your food when it’s “expired,” you are failing as a smart consumer. The Food Marketing Institute, along with other organizations, is trying to change the way we think by encouraging manufacturers to date their items with a new standardized product code dating initiative starting in summer 2018. It is still voluntary, and it will most likely occur over time. This means that companies still have flexibility to make changes because there are currently about 50 different versions of labels being used nationwide, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
This new initiative will include the use of two standard phrases. “BEST If Used By” for products that may not taste as expected but it it will still be safe to consume, and “USE By” will apply only to the few products that are highly perishable or have a food-safety concern.
There’s No Federal Regulation For Food Product Dating
However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture states that “if the date passes during home storage, a product should still be safe and wholesome…” only if it has been properly taken care of and properly stored in an adequate environment. It also becomes very obvious when food product spoils.
“Except for infant formula, dates on food products are not required by any Federal law or regulation.”
– USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services
Spoiled goods will become moldy, abnormally soft, change color, or emit unpleasant odor, because of bacteria. This is when a product should be tossed out! Luckily, the USDA has provided valuable information regarding food safety tips.
Most Food Is Safe to Eat After “Best by” Dating Codes
As our customer, you are already smart enough to know that you can get the same product for a fraction of the original retail price. But we want you to be smarter than the average customer! The following chart provided by the FDA contains information about shelf life on most food items.
Be reasonable when buying food, and make sure food is safe to eat before eating it. Just consider the estimated shelf life for every product you buy. Also, we would like to encourage you to return items if you happen to have a food item that has been perished at the moment of purchase. Please have a look at our food disposal policy: GTM Food Policy
What About the Environment?
Not only do we lose money, but by throwing away “expired” food we contribute to the deterioration of our environment. About 30 to 40 percent of the food in the US (about 20 pounds of food per person every month) is never eaten and ends up in municipal landfills, resulting in organic decay and becoming a source for methane emissions which are about 30 times more potent than CO2 emissions.
The food-production process also requires large amounts of energy and the use of fresh water. In order to grow crops and feed live stock, food manufacturers have to put in more water than the average we use on a daily basis. In an effort to raise awareness, the National Resources Defense Council compares the amount of water needed for food production to the minutes with a shower head running. To give you an idea, producing one pound of white rice requires the equivalent of 60 shower minutes, while one pound of cheese requires 122 minutes of your shower running.
Shopping at GTM is different, although some of our products might be close to the coded quality date from manufacturers (i.e. “Best by” dates) we offer them at heavily discount. Our team walks our stores on a daily basis to check we meet our GTM Food Policy while making sure the product on our shelves are fit for our customers and saving our environment by reducing. Make a difference, and be that difference!
“Before You Toss Food, Wait. Check It Out!” – US Department of Agriculture
“SAVE FOOD: Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction” – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States
“Are You Confused by Food Expiration Dates? You’re Not Alone” – The Guardian
“Forty Percent of Food in America is Wasted” – NRDC’s Save The Food
“Food Facts” – U.S. Food and Drug Administration
“Food Product Dating” – USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service
“Shelf-Stable Food Safety” – USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service
“Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 49 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill” – Natural Resources Defense Council
“New Report: Food Expiration Date Confusion Causing up to 90% of Americans to Waste Food” – Natural Resources Defense Council
“Food Expired? Don’t Be So Quick to Toss It” – CNN
“Food Wastegate Footprint Impact on Natural Resources” – Food and Agriculture Organization
“U.S. Sets First-ever Goals to Reduce Food Waste” – National Resources Defense Council
“Throwing away food isn’t just wasteful — it’s hurting our planet in a big way.” – Upworthy
“The expiration dates on our food could be contributing to a huge environmental problem” – The Washington Post
“How Much Food Do We Waste? Probably More Than You Think” – The New York Times
“Save Money and the Environment by Decreasing Food Waste” – Eat By Date
“Surplus, Salvaged, and Donated Foods: Safety Tips” – FDA’s U.S. Food and Drug Administration
“You’re Probably Throwing Away ‘Expired’ Food That’s Totally Fine To Eat” – Huffington Post