Serious Food Waste Occurs Due to Confusion over “Sell-By Date”
I have developed a strong interest in food waste since I began volunteering at my local food pantry. We help to alleviate food insecurity in the local community by rescuing perfectly edible food that is often past its “sell-by date.” I have cultivated this interest, in part, because food waste also contributes to global warming, another long-time concern of mine.
According to a recent article in The Guardian, if food waste were a country, it would rank as the third highest national emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China.
The worst food waste occurs in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where consumers waste 39% of all food purchased, followed by Europe, where about 31% of all food purchased by consumers is thrown away.
With the global population rising, wastage of products including 45% of all fruit and vegetables and 20% of meat is one of the greatest challenges to achieving food security. If the amount of food wasted around the world were reduced by just 25% there would be enough food to feed all the people who are malnourished, according to the UN.
According to Business Insider, experts estimate that $165 billion worth of food gets tossed each year, much of it wasted, out of fear of bogus expiration dates.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises you to purchase the product before the “sell-by date,” but most expiration dates are largely made up. According to The National Resource Defense Council, the “sell-by dates” simply tell you when food will reach its limits for “optimal quality.”
The USDA notes that it’s OK to eat these foods past the expiration dates on the packaging, with the exception of infant formula. The USDA advises parents to not buy or even use baby formula once the “use by” date rolls around.
A rule of thumb to go by is to pay attention to when you purchased or opened the food, rather than what the packaging says.
If in doubt, the website StillTasty provides helpful tips on when to dispose of hundreds of household goods.
We need more ways to educate the public with regard to the definition of the “sell-by date,” in order to dispel the fear of consuming expired food, thereby reducing food waste. It seems to me that many of us waste a good deal of money, as well as the opportunity help those in need, by disposing of edible food we fear is no longer fit for consumption.