A recent study shows that 30-40% of food Americans purchase goes to waste. This translates to approximately 1.3 billion tons of food lost. The study found the majority of wasted food is a result of consumers discarding their food based on the expiration date.
Why waste is occurring:
People feel as though consumption of expired food is dangerous to their health. Whilst this may seem like an appropriate action, far too often the printed expiration date is not indicative of the safety of the food. To complicate things, companies present expiration dates under many different titles such as sell by, delicious if eaten by, best before, use by, and so on and so forth. More often than not, these dates are merely the time in which the product has passed its peak quality. In other words, it will still be tasty and safe to eat.
Impact on the environment:
Food is coined as wasted when it is not consumed. Evidently, the wasted food ends up in landfills. As the food sits and decomposed, it lets off methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. These gasses largely impacts global warming and climate change. Apart from the food itself, many materials such as water, energy, and oil are wasted in the production of the uneaten food. In short, resources are being misused, resulting in a multitude of negative consequences on the environment.
Efforts to create a solution:
To help simplify things, there is a large push for the adoption of using two terms on food labels; best if used by and use by one for peak quality and one for food safety respectively. This idea is a great way to reduce food waste and maintain health standards. However, much like any large transition, this adoption will take a long time.
What we can do:
In the meantime, it is the consumer’s responsibility to carefully assess the food, rather than basing its edibility off of the printed date. First and foremost, look at the food. Discoloration, mold, or slime indicate the food gone bad and should be disposed of. If the food still looks good, proceed to the sniff test. Food that has been properly stored should retain the pleasant aroma that originally accompanied the food. Any foul odors are once again indicative that the food is better off in the trash. Lastly, the taste test. The reality is one small bite of spoiled food will not lead to severe illness. Try a bite of the food, if anything tastes funky, then in the trash it goes. Otherwise, there is an extremely small likelihood that the food has truly expired. Therefore, eat away!
Relying on our senses gives us a better sense of the true age of the food.