How many times have you grabbed a sauce or condiment from the back of the fridge to use for dinner — only to find that the item is past its expiration date? Most of us can probably think of several times within the last month alone that we reluctantly tossed some type of food in the trash because the label told us it was no longer good.
As wasteful as it seems, it’s hard to blame anyone for adhering to the recommended expiration date printed on food labels. It hardly seems worth the risk to eat something that could potentially make you sick, even if it looks and smells all right.
The fact of the matter is, however, that most of the food we throw away is probably fine to eat a majority of the time. Emma Marsh, head of the U.K.-based food waste management group “Love Food Hate Waste,” told National Geographic that “more than half the food [British consumers] throw out is food we could have eaten.”
Considering that hundreds of millions of people around the world don’t have enough food to get by on, throwing away so much perfectly good food seems a crime. That’s not to mention that all of the food that is thrown away each year adds up to about $750 billion in wasted food costs, according to National Geographic.
One major problem is labeling. For the most part, food labels play a key role in providing consumers with important information about different products.
They also tell users when food is past its prime; however, they do so in a number of different ways. Phrases like “best before,” “use by,” and “sell by” all have different meanings, but most consumers only go by the date that appears on the label. After that date has passed, they assume the food is no longer safe to eat and toss it in the trash.
Marsh says that “best before” dates refer to when the food is at its freshest, but most items are safe for consumption after this date as long as they look and smell fine. “Use by” dates, she says, aren’t as flexible. Educating people on the difference between different labeling terms could spare a lot of items from ending up in the trash.
Consumers aren’t the only ones having trouble with product labels. Many food companies are extremely conservative with their food expiration dates — out of fear of lawsuits that could result if someone were to get sick from their products. Not wanting to take the financial risk, they stay on the safe side when it comes to creating expiration dates.
While no one wants to risk getting sick from bad food, it is time that something be done to cut back on the amount of good food that is thrown away each day.