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Shocking amount of food wasted due to expiry date confusion

Friday, May 24th 2019, 6:12 pm - Canadians and Americans throw out a lot of food.

A 2019 report by VCM suggests upwards of 58 percent of all the food produced in Canada annually is wasted.

"Of that, 32 percent – equalling 11.2 million metric tonnes of lost food – is avoidable and is edible food that could be redirected to support people in our communities," reads the report.

"The total financial value of this potentially rescuable lost and wasted food is a staggering $49.46 billion."

In the U.S., Americans are throwing out about 131 billion tonnes of food per year at a dollar value of $161 billion U.S.

One of the leading causes of food waste appears to be confusion surrounding expiry dates.

"Manufacturers of packaged foods voluntarily use a wide variety of introductory phrases on product date labels, such as 'Best If Used By,' 'Use By,' and 'Sell By,' to describe quality," reads a recent letter by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA).

"In a 2007 survey of U.S. consumers ... less than half were able to distinguish between the meanings of three different introductory phrases that often appear before the calendar date on the product."

According to the USFDA, this accounts for approximately 20 percent of consumer food waste in the U.S., or $32.2 million in losses.


USFDA has announced it is supporting efforts to standardize the term "Best if Used By" on packaged food when the date is related to optimal quality and not safety.

PEXELS healthy meal food vegetables Source: Pexels/Creative Commons


"Manufacturers generally apply date labels at their own discretion and for a variety of reasons," reads a statement on the USFDA website.

On most packaged foods, the dates are intended to inform consumers the date up to which they can expect the food to maintain its quality.

"The key exception to this general rule is for infant formula products," USFDA says.

"These products are required to bear a “Use By” date, up to which the manufacturer has confirmed that the product contains no less than a minimum amount of each nutrient identified on the product label, and that the product will be of an acceptable quality."

Still, food manufacturer are not required to obtain approval for their dates, nor are they required to explain how they determined them (with the excpetion of infant formula).

Kevin Smith, the senior advisor for food safety at the USFDA, advises consumers to routinely examine foods in their home that are past the “Best if Used By” date. If they have changed colour, consistency or texture, they should be avoided.

Officials hope that as date labels are streamlined, food waste will be reduced.

The initiative is part of a federal government plan to cut food waste in the U.S. by 50 percent by 2030.


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