Wander into your local grocery store, and you’ll find food stamped with all kinds of dates. The sell-by date is for the store, for stock rotation. The use-by date is for us consumers, but it just tells us when a product is at its peak.
We don’t realize we can eat stuff after the use-by date, and not get sick.
"The vast majority of Americans are confused and throwing away food prematurely," says Dana Gunders, a food scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Gunders estimates that Americans throw out up to $450 of perfectly good food every year. She says manufacturers are a bit too conservative with their use-by dates. They want you to get just the right amount of crunch from that potato chip.
David Fikes is with the Food Marketing Institute, a trade group for stores and manufacturers. He says manufacturers are just protecting their brands, and it’s not like they want you to throw stuff away so you have to go out and buy more.
He says, "Who wants to produce something, only to have it pitched?"
Right now, there’s no federal standard on food labeling, just a patchwork of state and local rules.
"It’s always nice to have uniformity so you can distribute broadly without worrying about individual state and local regulations," says Michael Dunn, who teaches food science at Brigham Young University and says things might be easier for manufacturers if the feds stepped in.
But, there’s catch. Dunn says if manufacturers had to do a lot of retooling to comply with new federal rules, they’d pass the cost onto consumers.