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Study: Use-Buy Dates Misleading, Consumers Wasting Food

Updated: Monday, November 11 2013, 03:23 PM EST

According to a new report, confusion over use-by dates on food labels are leading to roughly 90% of Americans throwing goods away earlier than necessary.

The report, issued by Harvard Law and the Natural Resources Defense Council, found that the use-by dates can be misleading and don't mean that food is unsafe to eat. It's more of a manufacturer's suggestion for when the product is at its peak quality.

Co-author of the study, Dana Gunders, says those suggestions contribute to millions of pounds of wasted food each and every year. "The study found that more than 90 percent (or 9 out of 10 Americans) of Americans occasionally toss food prematurely because they mistakenly interpret food labels as indicators of food safety. One key factor leading to an estimated 40 percent of our food supply trashed in the U.S. every year."

For the average family of four that's about $275-$450 dollars in the garbage every year.

According to a list compiled by researchers at eatbydate.com eggs can be eaten 3-4 weeks after you buy them, even though the use-by date is much earlier, and mayonnaise can last a whole month after the use-by date. Ketchup, it said, can be eaten a whole year after the date on the label.

Food dating started back in the 1970s as a way to let consumers know where their food was coming from and when it was the freshest. While authors of this study believe those dates serve an important purpose, they believe it needs to be more consistent.

There is no federal regulation, which has led to different rules in the 50 states, with very inconsistent use-by dates, sell-by dates and best-buy dates.

Study: Use-Buy Dates Misleading, Consumers Wasting Food


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