Each year, American consumers waste far more food than expected – an issue that multiple recent studies have attributed to what are described as confusing and varied expiration date labeling terms.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., the average U.S. family of four throws away at least $1,500 in edible food products each year, mainly as a result of unclear expiration date terms, which range from "best by" and "freshest by" to "sell by" and "use by."
Confused and Overconfident Consumers
More than 50 different expiration date terms have been attached to U.S.-made food products over time, further "fueling confusion about what the labels mean and driving waste," according to an August 2019 NRDC press release. The release further stated that more than 40% of edible food in the country goes uneaten each year, which comes at a cost of around $218 billion with regard to the services required to dispose of it.
More than 80% of American consumers throw out food because of confusion surrounding labeled expiration dates, the NRDC added.
In another example, an Ohio State University study that polled 300 people in two surveys found that consumers overestimated how much food they predicted they would eat out of their fridges each week, according to Consumer Affairs.
On average, those polled estimated that they would eat 70% of their fruits and near 100% of their meats; the end results, however, showed that only 40% of the former were eaten, along with half of meats.
In response to the public concern surrounding confusing food expiration date labeling, the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service stated that customers should "understand that dates applied to food are for quality and not for safety," further explaining that products can still be safely eaten, even after their listed dates (pending case-by-case quality checks for freshness).
Expiration Date Debate
This year, two bills intended to "streamline and simplify" U.S.-produced food expiration date labeling have been introduced in both chambers of Congress that if signed into law, could potentially result in the limiting of terminology to the phrases "use by" or "best by."
Congress first attempted to pass similar legislation in 2016 in the form of a bill called the Food Date Labeling Act, according to Money Magazine.
The issue of food safety related to expiration date and "refrigerate after opening" labeling for ketchup further garnered national attention in early September 2019, for example, when American hip-hop artist Cardi B revealed on Twitter that she has never put the condiment in her refrigerator, according to Complex Magazine.
The refrigerator-versus-room temperature ketchup debate is not new – and the exact answer is up in the air, according to Health Magazine, which claimed that ingredients such as salt and sugar act as preservatives, allowing it to be kept at room-temperature. On the other hand, ketchup labels advise consumers to indeed refrigerate containers of the red condiment and the recent lowering of salt content in such products provides further reason not to leave them out.
With the potential for food expiration date labeling-related legislation to be approved into law to help reduce waste, North American producers should be prepared to make any necessary changes to their own products by purchasing high-quality label printers from the selections on Argon Technology's U.S. website or its Canadian page.