Confusion over “sell by” and “use by” date labels is a major factor. Less than half of consumers can identify what “sell by” labels mean – and less than one quarter can identify what “use by” labels mean.
Most consumers mistakenly believe date labels are safety indicators, which is why 90% report throwing away food once the expiration date arrives.
In reality, almost no food date labels are related to safety. The vast majority are quality indicators, and reflect the date the companies believes food will be at its peak taste. With only a few exceptions, food will remain wholesome and safe to eat long past its expiration date. But today, consumers and retailers will simply throw it out – and, in fact, some states currently prohibit the sale or donation of past-date food.
This waste hurts our community, and our environment!
At a time when many American families are struggling to make ends meet, food waste cost the average American family of four between $1,560 and $2,275 per year. Meanwhile, roughly 10.5 percent of all U.S. households, or about 34.7 million Americans, experienced food insecurity at some point during 2019. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 over 50 million Americans were estimated to be experiencing food insecurity. Redistributing just 30% of all the food lost in the United States could feed every food insecure American their total diet.
This food waste is also taking a toll on our environment. First, the enormous amount of resources that goes into producing our food is squandered when that food goes uneaten. The resources spent creating food that gets thrown away include approximately: tens of millions of acres of cropland, 300 million barrels of oil, and 21 percent of our national fresh water supply. Second, this discarded food often winds up in landfills, where it contributes to harmful greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions of about 3.4 million vehicles. Food waste makes up more than 20% of all content in municipal landfills today.