One of the more surprising reasons, as she explains in a report just released by NRDC and Harvard Law School, is because of the inconsistent and incoherent way in which food is date labeled.
Those “best by,” “sell by,” and “use by” dates that you see on food have nothing to do with food safety.
There I was, a grown man staring at that "use by" date and thinking, "Will eating this mean a trip to the emergency room? Millions of consumers experience the confusion of product dating, primarily because it confusing. Except for infant formula and some baby food, USDA regulations do not generally require product dating.
One package might have a "sell by" date, another a "best before" date, and yet another, a "use by" date. And as for the FDA, widely seen as the nation's primary enforcer of food and drug safety laws, it largely stays out of food dating. "Because the expiration date is not indicative of product quality if storage conditions have been less than optimal, the FDA does not require expiration dates on most products," said Michael L. Herndon said that even the dates required on infant formula are "use by" dates, not "expiration" dates.
Some products even use what is called a Julian Date, which is perfectly understandable as long as you're a mathematician. In other words, almost all food dating relates to the quality of the product, not its safety."The quality characteristics of foods (taste, aroma and appearance -- as distinct from safety characteristics) often depend in great part on good storage conditions: temperature and humidity control in the retail store and warehouse," Herndon said.
"OK," I thought, "this will have to do." But then something happened that crushed my hopes of a hunger-free night.
A basic understanding of what terms are used can help you to better understand these labels.
There are different kinds of date markings, depending on the product.
“But he just says it doesn’t taste good if it’s past its date.” In this battle, mother knows best.
Sell-by, use-by and best-by dates do not indicate whether a food is safe to eat, or even if is still tasty. A 2011 survey conducted by the Food Marketers Institute found that 91 percent of consumers occasionally discarded food past its sell-by date out of concern for the product’s safety; 25 percent said they always did so. In the United States, an estimated 40 percent of food is thrown away.