If divorce or some other disaster has ever forced you to do your own grocery shopping, you may have noticed the “sell by” stamps on food.
Or, maybe you’ve seen the “best by” dates emblazoned on ice cream.
The mishmash of dates does little but confuse consumers, according to a report by The Washington Post.
It contributes to this sad statistic: About 40 percent of all food grown in the United States is thrown away.
A Harvard study alleges better date labelling would reduce food waste and maybe feed a few hungry people like that guy at the top of the exit ramp holding the cardboard sign.
“The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead To Food Waste In America” says if a third of the food currently wasted was redistributed, it could provide the entire diet of every “food insecure” person in the United States.
The federal government has never instituted a uniform system of food dates, so, in the 1970s, states began to fill the vacuum with their own patchwork set of rules.
Georgia, for example, does not require dates be placed on meat, but Alabama does. New Hampshire and Georgia are the only states to explicitly single out pre-wrapped sandwiches for regulation, the study says.
Nine states have no food date regulations at all.
The primary audience of “sell by” dates on food packaging is not consumers, but retailers who use them to rotate inventory and, perhaps, to encourage more frequent purchases of milk and eggs.
Twenty-five percent of those surveyed believe the “sell by” date indicates the last day food is safe to eat. But, if stored properly, most foods are perfectly edible long after the date on the packaging.
Writers of the study suggest labels be replaced by a “freeze by” date, which would greatly extend perceived shelf life. They also suggest Congress come up with a mandatory and uniform system of labelling.
Even Libertarians, who find most government regulation as troubling as termites with banjos, might think that’s a good idea.