New date mark guidelines for food labels

Reduce food waste by following new date mark guidelines.

Did you know that the only food required to put a date mark on their food is infant formula? However, manufacturers often choose to do this so that consumers have a guideline for gauging the quality of the product. That way, if you purchase something that has gone stale, you can’t fault the manufacturer if it is past the date mark on the package. However, the date mark on the package has created a lot of confusion for consumers, therefore a lot of food is discarded that may in fact be perfectly fine to eat.

There are various statistics that reference food waste, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers reports that 30 to 50 percent of our food is wasted before it even reaches our stomach, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) references 30 percent of our food is consistently wasted. Their findings state that, among other factors, overly strict sell-by dates contribute to this shocking amount of waste.

Manufacturer’s typically use a type of “open dating” such as “Sell By”, “Use By” or “Best if Used By” date. These are intended for retailers or consumers to use as a guideline for selling top quality products, and also for consumer awareness. However, many people interpret this as a magical date that products spoil d seemingly overnight. While this quality mark does help ensure freshness and quality, it is not meant as a spoilage alert. In other words, the product is very likely safe to eat after passing the package date.

There are qualities to look for that can help you answer whether or not you should consume a product, such as dented or bulging cans or lids, off-smelling products, slime, curdling, etc.. If a product has a chance of being improperly handled that may have caused the growth of bacteria, such as leaving meat out at room temperature, then it should be discarded properly.

The USDA released new labeling guidance on December 14, 2016, in hopes of reducing food waste. Using the “Best if Used by” date has been shown to cause less consumer confusion than other open labeling such as Sell by or Use by and can lead to disposing less of good quality food. Lastly, it is a good idea to follow safe food handling principles, and not hold potentially hazardous food beyond its recommended shelf life. Michigan State Univeristy Extension has information on food safety, and recommends using the Food Keeper app (downloadable or for iOS devices) for recommendations on storage times. 

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