CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (CBS Connecticut) — A new study finds that Americans throw away billions of dollars’ worth of food a year because of confusion over the expiration date on the packaging.

The study, done in tandem by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, reports that $165 billion worth of edible food gets trashed annually due to misinterpretation of date labels. This equals out to 40 percent of the nation’s food not getting eaten.

People trash “expired” food thinking it’s not safe to eat when it really is, researchers believe.

“[T]he dates are only suggestions by the manufacturer for when the food is at its peak quality, not when it is unsafe to eat,” the study states.

A survey done by the Food Marketing Institute found that nine out of 10 Americans needlessly throw away their food, causing the average family of four to lose several hundred dollars’ worth of groceries.

To help alleviate the confusion that consumers face with expiration dates, the study calls for making “sell by” dates invisible to consumers, establishing a more uniform and easily understandable label system that communicates clearly with customers and by also increasing the use of safe handling instructions and “smart labels” to help provide additional information on the product’s safety.

The study calls on the food industry and the federal government to take action on this issue in an effort to stop wasting so much food.


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