"Best-by" Dates

  • Many people are confused by the labels on food sold in grocery stores, which read
    • Sell-by
    • Use-by
    • Best-before
Many consumers read an item's sell-by date as an indicator of when the food will spoil, which is an inaccurate assumption.  Consumers are concerned about food-borne illnesses and freshness, becoming preoccupied with sourcing and safety. 

Manufacturers use sell-by dates to help retailers manage their inventory.  It encourages stores to sell a product within a specific time frame, so that the item still has a shelf life once it is purchased.  

Expiration dates lead us to waste money and throw out perfectly good food. 

Phrases like sell-by, use by, and best before are poorly regulated, misinterpreted and lead to a false confidence in food safety.  They are simply producer estimates of how long the food will be at peak quality. 

Researchers also blame an incoherent jumble of state and federal regulations and guidelines for unclear expiration date labels.  The Food and Drug Administration leaves the determination of such dates up to manufacturers. 

(Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic, Use-by dates confuse shoppers, by Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times, September 19, 2013) 

  • 90% of Americans prematurely discard edibles, because they have misinterpreted the dates stamped on food products. 

  • Americans throw out as much as 40% of the country's food supply each year, adding up to $165 billion in losses. 

  • Food waste makes up the largest portion of solid trash in landfills.  Some $900 million of expired food is dumped from the supply chain annually, much as a result of confusion. 

  • Misinterpreted date labels cause the average American household of 4 to lose as much as $455 a year on squandered food.