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NewsBites December 2013 Issue

Confusing Labels Cause Food Waste

Is your household throwing away hundreds of dollars’ worth of usable food every year? That’s the conclusion of a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, which warns that $165 billion of edible food is tossed in the trash annually and 40% of US food production never gets eaten. The leading culprit? Confusing food date labels, according to the report.

“All those dates on food products—sell by, use by, best before—almost none of those dates indicate the safety of food, and generally speaking, they’re not regulated in the way many people believe,” the report states. “Sell by” dates are intended to help stores with stock rotation, the report goes on, and are not meant to be used by consumers. “Best by” and “use by” dates are manufacturer’s estimates of when a food will begin to decline from peak quality; they’re driven more by concern for the product’s reputation than safety. The main criterion people should use to evaluate food safety, according to the report, is the amount of time food spends in the temperature “danger zone” of 40 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, when bacterial contamination thrives.

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