Inability To Understand Food Labels A Major Contributor To Food Waste

A recent survey said that Americans waste $640 of food each year. According to, the confusion over when a food is still safe to eat is a major contributor to food waste. The issue stems from the three labels that packaging has to designate freshness: “use by,” “sell by” and “best buy.”

These three statements that you can find on the side of your favorite foods actually mean three different things. However, people see the date and throw away the food while it’s still fresh and edible.

The good news is, regardless of the label, food actually lasts longer than you think. The “use by” label means you should eat the food before that date, however it usually refers to quality more than safety. “Sell by” refers to when something should be removed from shelves. It’s estimated that after this date, about one third of the food’s life still exists; so don’t throw it away so fast. “Best buy” is purely a qualitative statement. It simply means quality will be best by a certain date, not that the food will go bad.

Paying attention to these different designations is important to understand how long your food will last. If we’re throwing many things away before we need to, then awareness will be one of our greatest allies to change that.

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