Expiration dates on food packaging can be quite confusing. In the U.S. there are over 10 types of expiration date formats. If consumers aren’t informed properly, they’re apt to toss perfectly good food into the trash. Change, however, is on the way…
What a Waste!
ReFED is a non-profit collaborative dedicated to reducing food waste in America. They estimate that over 50 million tons of food is sent to landfill each year, and an additional 10 million tons is just discarded or left unharvested on farms. ReFED claims that just by standardizing expiration date labels, an estimated 400,000 tons of food could be saved each year in the U.S.
In America, one-in-seven households is food-insecure. One-in-five children is living in a food-insecure home. All this wasted food could be going to feed the hungry.
In 2006, the U.S. produced about 228 million tons of waste, and a large portion of that was wasted food. Food waste in landfills creates methane. Methane is a gas that is partially responsible for deteriorating the ozone layer in our atmosphere. We can attribute some of this process to our current phase of climate change.
Additionally, consider the indirect effect of food waste on our environment. There’s a high rate of gas emissions from vehicles transporting food to stores and then again to the dump. There’s also water waste. Then there’s also the excess use of fertilizers and chemical pesticides.
The financial ramifications of food waste are tremendous as well. In 2012, a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council revealed that in the U.S. we toss $218 billion of food into the trash—each year. If we do the math, an average family of four is wasting approximately between $1,000 and $2,500 on food each year.
How Clear Labels and Packaging Can Help
Manufacturers need to be clear about what the expiration date means on their product. Does it express food quality or food safety? “BEST if used by…” can tell the consumer when the product may lose its visual appeal or taste, but it’s still safe to eat. “USE by…” is more to alert the shopper when the product may become perishable or possibly unsafe to eat after that date.
These two options have been highly recommended by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. In fact by July 2018, the new standardized date labels will launch. It won’t be mandatory, but the grocery industry trade groups are hoping the new system will be utilized to clarify labels and reduce waste.
Other Ways to Help
Organic waste recycling helps reduce the toxicity of matter going into landfills. In California, there is legislature that mandates organic waste recycling for companies that generate a large amount of food waste. Other states may want to consider the same.
Also, streamlining food donations should be able to help reduce the amount of food going into landfills. There are apps that grocers, food producers, and restaurants can use to locate local nonprofit organizations that accept donations of surplus food. The “Spoiler Alert” app even connects grocers to companies that make fertilizer and animal feed (for food that is no longer safely consumable for humans.)
Best practice may be to shop for fresh, whole foods and consume shortly after purchase. That, too, will help reduce waste, but will also increase your good health. Check out GetThrive for more up-to-date articles on health and nutrition.