Americans are needlessly losing money and dumping billions of pounds of perfectly good food every year because they are misguided by expiration dates on groceries, according to a new study co-authored by Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The study, "The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America" highlights the confusion caused by America's food expiration date labeling practices and makes recommendations for a new system of food date labeling.
A family of four in the United States is estimated to lose between $275-455 per year on needlessly trashed food, according to the study.
It also points out that some 91 percent of consumers occasionally throw food away based on the "sell by" date out of a mistaken notion that the food isn't safe to eat after the date has passed, even when the labels give no indication that the food is unsafe to eat.
The food labelling system is also noted as one of the factors causing an estimated $160 billion of wasted food in the U.S., annually.
"We need a standardized, commonsense date labeling system that actually provides useful information to consumers, rather than the unreliable, inconsistent and piecemeal system we have today," said Emily Broad Leib, lead author of the report and director of Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic in a release posted on the school's website.
"This comprehensive review provides a blueprint calling on the most influential date label enforcers – food industry actors and policymakers – to create and foster a better system that serves our health, pocketbooks and the environment."
Among the recommendations the authors of the study suggest to cut waste is for food producers and retailers to start making sell by dates invisible to consumers. These dates, they argue, provide business-to-business labeling information that is unhelpful to the consumer.
The study also called for a more user-friendly date labeling system that clearly distinguishes between safety and quality-based dates.