(CNN)In this season of festive eating — and festive provisioning — we often have a tricky time planning meals, juggling all the things in our fridge and making sure everyone has a good time and enjoys the food we cook. I know that even in my house, all the date labels on food can cause confusion. What’s the difference between them all? Is the food still safe to eat if it’s getting close to one of the dates? Can I use it to feed my friends and family?
We all often err on the side of caution because we don’t really know the difference between the different types of labels. As a result, it’s often the case in the United Kingdom and I’m sure it’s the same in the United States that food
gets tossed from home cupboards when it passes its “best by” date.
In the United Kingdom, for example, more than half the avoidable household food waste
occurs when people buy too much and then don’t use it before it spoils or before the date on the label, according to surveys by
the Waste and Resources Action Programme, or WRAP.
Part of the problem is confusion over what date labels on food
There are only two date labels food
shoppers need to make intelligent choices, and only one of these labels should be on each product. These are “use by” and “best by.”
The “use by” date is for food
s that could become unsafe if not used before a certain date, such as meat, fish and dairy products. It’s particularly important for pregnant women, older people and those with weakened immune systems to follow this advice. “Use by” dates are generally set by retailers
or brands following guidance from health safety organizations.
Some retailers also add a “sell by” or “display until” date. This is purely for internal stock control, so consumers don’t need to see it. This could easily be replaced by a bar code
or some other internal marking system (and this has been done in the United Kingdom).
But policies can only go so far. Consumers need clear information about the food
s they buy, while retailers need to apply policies consistently and let their customers know what they’re doing. A lot of the problem is simply human:
- People are scared by the dates and throw things away regardless of whether they are safe to eat.
- People are confused about what the different dates mean (my husband — who should know better because he lives with me! — is often concerned about food that goes past the “best by” date, even though it is entirely safe to eat).
- Stores add to the confusion by using the dates inconsistently.
- Retailers and brands don’t consistently communicate to customers about how the date labels work.
Another issue is a failure to let consumers know they can extend the life of food
they buy once they get it home. If a package label says, “freeze on day of purchase,” that could discourage people from freezing food
that wasn’t eaten right away but is still safe to eat. A clearer label could read, “freeze up to the ‘use by’ date” — and avoid wasting perfectly wholesome but perishable food
Worldwide, more than a billion tons of food
— equivalent to one-third of all food
the planet produces — is never consumed by people. This prodigal waste costs the global economy $940 billion
each year, at a time when one of every nine people
doesn’t have enough food
to lead an active life.
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loss and waste is also a major environmental concern. Eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions can be tied back to food
that’s produced and never consumed, left to release
planet-warming methane gases. So, we can get a win-win-win: make better use of all the food
we buy, save money and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The holiday season is also a season of charity for many of us, so consider this an act of kindness to yourself, your family and friends and to those who are going hungry: Read food
date labels carefully, make sure you know what they mean — remember it’s the “use by” date that you need to take note of from a food
safety perspective — and let store managers know if their labels aren’t clear.
The less food
we waste could mean more available for those around the world who desperately need it.
Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/23/opinions/confusing-food-labels-goodwin/index.html