Food waste is a global issue that affects not only our wallets but also the environment. As we’ve previously touched upon, each American wastes an average of 414 pounds of food every year!
Confusion around food expiration dates is one of the leading contributors to unnecessary food waste. Here, we’ll provide greater insight on food expiration dates to help you reduce food waste and its impact on the planet.
Best Before vs. Use By Dates
Food expiration dates are determined by manufacturers to indicate the period of optimal quality or safety. Government regulations also play a role in defining expiration date labels. However, these dates are often conservative estimates and not definitive indicators of spoilage.
Therefore, understanding the difference between "best before" and "use by" dates is crucial in making informed decisions about the freshness and safety of food items. "Best before" dates indicate the period during which the product is at its peak quality but does not necessarily mean it's unsafe to consume afterward. "Use by" dates are safety dates, after which the food may no longer be safe to eat.
Better Storage = Longer Food Preservation
Many food items remain safe to eat even after their expiration dates, as long as they are handled and stored properly. Shelf life is often determined by storage conditions. Storing perishable items, like meat and dairy, in the refrigerator and maintaining the appropriate temperature settings will ensure their safety and longevity. Other products--like dry goods (e.g., pasta, rice) and canned foods--can often be safely consumed well beyond their expiration dates as long as they are stored in a cool, dry place.
Understanding how different foods spoil can also help you assess their edibility. For example, spoilage signs in milk include sour smell and curdled texture, while in fruits and vegetables, mold growth may be an indicator of spoilage. Relying on your senses (sight, smell, and taste) can be a more accurate way to assess food freshness than strictly adhering to expiration dates.
If you have produce that’s nearing the end of its life, consider food preservation methods, such as freezing, canning, pickling, and dehydrating. These techniques can help minimize food waste and provide you with convenient food options later on. And as a last resort, if you find yourself with surplus, unexpired food that you cannot consume in time, consider donating it to local food banks or community organizations. This helps reduce waste and supports those in need.