I recently learned a surprising statistic – approximately 40% of all food produced in America is wasted. Considering the very real pressures we are facing in the areas of poverty and hunger, food security, energy security and the environmental side-effects of farming and raising animals for food – how can we be throwing away almost half of the food we and nature work so hard to make?
Food waste occurs at almost every step in the food chain – in the fields, in grocery stores, in restaurants – but there is at least one place where we can all take control of food waste right now – our own kitchen shelves.
Consumers are bombarded with a dizzying array of best before, enjoy by, sell by and expiration dates printed on the items in our fridges and on our pantry shelves. It’s easy to be baffled, but did you know that you probably don’t have to toss that jar of pickles the day after its best buy date?
Most of the dates printed on our food have little to do with food safety or even edibility. Get to know a few simple rules and stop tossing tonight’s dinner.
1. Best by dates are not expiration dates.
Best by dates are chosen by manufacturers to indicate when a product is at the peak of freshness. The quality of the product may begin to deteriorate after that date, but the product will remain edible and likely just as tasty for some time after. Best by dates do not mean that you have to discard the product on the printed date. But they also don’t tell you how far past a best by date the food will stay good, which varies greatly from product to product.
2. Sell by or display until dates are not expiration dates.
These are dates that stores use solely to manage inventory. They do not indicate that products are unsafe or inedible and must be discarded once the date has passed. Most foods are good for at least a week after the “sell by” date, but quality may diminish.
Meat and dairy products often display “sell by” dates – try to purchase these products before the sell by date. Use or freeze fish, poultry and ground meats within 1-2 days of purchase and red meat and pork within three days of purchase. Milk is usually good for about a week after its sell by date. Eggs are typically good for 3-5 weeks after purchase.
3. Use by dates might be expiration dates.
Use by dates, in particular, are used inconsistently by manufacturers. They may indicate peak of freshness (like best by dates) or they may indicate that a product is no longer safe to consume.
4. Expiration dates are probably expiration dates.
Actual expiration dates, although rare, typically indicate food safety. Food should generally not be consumed after an expiration date.
Now that you know the rules, think twice the next time you are faced with a food date. Give food a second chance.
Commit now to reduce food waste at home.