September 24, 2013

Expiration Dates


Scott: Alright. Let’s set the scene. You wake up in the morning, stomach growling! You grab a bowl, some cereal, then you reach for the milk. But the sell-by date on it is yesterday’s date. Is it good? Bad? Safe to have? Well, Maggie Rulli takes a look at the question that has been boggling the minds of milk drinkers for years.

Maggie: ‘Best by,’ ‘use by,’ ‘sell by’ – you see it stamped on just about everything. But what exactly do all these dates and labels mean?

Teen: Some of them mean ‘sell by’ and some of them mean ‘eat by.’ It’s kind of confusing.

Maggie: Because none of them actually mean ‘expired by.’

Avinash Kar: Nine out of ten people may be throwing out food based on the mistaken impression that these labels are conveying information about safety, and that is not the case.

Maggie: On average, Americans throw out 40% of their food.

Teen: I throw away a fair amount.

Teen: Probably a lot.

Teen: A lot.

Maggie: According to a new report by the Natural Resource Defense Council and Harvard Law, this wasted food is largely caused by misleading food labels.

Right now, labels are voluntary, not regulated, and have absolutely nothing to do with food safety. ‘Sell by’ is really just a note for the grocery store. And ‘best by’ or ‘use by’ is actually the day when the company thinks the product will taste the best.

The report says this food confusion has some pretty major consequences. It ends up costing the food industry $165 billion in wasted food every year. And families end up wasting hundreds of dollars as well. And when 1 in 6 Americans doesn’t have access to a reliable supply of food, solving this wasteful problem could help feed our country.

So as a solution, the report suggests using a well-regulated system with more oversight that includes hiding the sell-by date from consumers and, instead, printing uniform date labels that clearly differentiate between safety and quality.

In the meantime, many people will just keep relying on their gut.

Teen: I use my best judgment, I guess.

Teen: I’m known as the iron stomach, so I’ll kind of eat things until it tastes bad.

Maggie: Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.

Scott: I was once known as the iron stomach, but a bout with a tricky Greek yogurt changed all that.

Well, want more help sorting out what the labels on your food mean? Head to


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