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Confusion surrounding 'best before' dates could be contributing to significant food loss and financial waste, according to a new study by the Institute of Food Technologists.

Study: Date labelling confusion leads to significant food waste

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, June 24, 2014, 4:49 PM - A recent study by the Institute of Food Technologists suggests that confusion surrounding the 'best before' dates on foods could be contributing to significant waste.

The study's authors argues that date labelling variations on food products are leading to a widespread "misunderstanding in the marketplace" about how 'best before' dates relate to food safety.

According to IFT, approximately 133 billion pounds of food was wasted in 2010 in the U.S. alone.

That accounts for roughly 31 percent of the 430 billion pounds of edible food made available to U.S. consumers during that time frame.

The study's authors are calling upon the food industry to develop a more consistent date-marking system. 

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"Uniformity is the first step to better inform and educate the consumer, and provide clear, simple direction on food quality and safety," IFT says in a statement.

"... In some cases, U.S. and international regulators have devoted excessive resources and inspectional focus on food quality date labeling at the retail level. Quality-based date labeling is not a critical food safety issue; thus, resources could be shifted to ensure that regulatory efforts are focused around more significant health and safety risks rather than on labeling concerns that have to do with food quality."

The complete paper can be found at the Wiley Online Library.

Food waste is an increasingly large problem across the globe.

In January 2013, a study was published by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers arguing that between 30 and 50 percent of the food produced annually goes to waste due to poor harvesting practices, consumer habits and, in developing nations, inefficient storage and transportation.

In the developed world, many food retailers adhere to strict guidelines regarding the physical characteristics of food products.

According to the study, retailers are known to reject entire crops of edible fruit and vegetables at the farm because they are oddly-shaped or slightly off-colour.

This generates an estimated 1.6 million tonnes of waste annually.

RELATED: Eat veggies and live longer

Price mark-downs can exacerbate the problem by encouraging customers to purchase more food than they will eat. 

"The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is staggering," said Dr. Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, in a statement.

"This is food that could be used to feed the world’s growing population – as well as those in hunger today. It is also an unnecessary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food."


1Make a list and stick to it. Experts recommend taking inventory of the food items in your home before heading out to the grocery store. This can prevent duplication. 

2. Re-purpose over-ripe fruits and vegetables. Over-ripe bananas make a wonderful banana bread. Fruits and veggies that are close to spoiling can be used in a smoothie, as pie filling, or as ingredients in a soup or stew.

3. Serve smaller portions. If you're still hungry, help yourself to a second serving.

4. Donate. Food banks and soup kitchens will gladly take your unwanted canned and packaged goods, provided they aren't expired.

5. Freeze your leftovers. If you don't plan on eating your leftovers right away, freeze them for another day. 

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