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Much of it is perfectly good, edible food – worth 5 billion annually – and it gets tossed in the trash instead feeding someone who’s hungry.

My colleague Dana Gunders has been exploring how, where, and why food gets wasted in America, from farm to store to table.

Food manufacturers can choose to label their food products with some type of date to signify when they think products are at their peak quality. However, there is no universal system in place to determine these dates; leaving companies to use their best guess to determine what they think represents their products’ peak quality and freshness.

In most cases, products can be eaten well after these dates if stored in appropriate conditions.

For the average family of four, this could translate to several hundred dollars’ worth of food being thrown away every year – and, in all likelihood, more money spent purchasing the same food again – simply because of a misleading date stamp. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal agency responsible for food safety, would be overseeing food expiration dates. FDA, in its own words, leaves date labels on food, except for infant formula, to “the discretion of the manufacturer.” The U. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees meat, poultry, and some egg products, also says date labels are voluntary.The words on date labels should have a standard definition across the country and across products.Labels should clearly differentiate between safety-based and quality-based dates.One of the more surprising reasons, as she explains in a report just released by NRDC and Harvard Law School, is because of the inconsistent and incoherent way in which food is date labeled.Those “best by,” “sell by,” and “use by” dates that you see on food have nothing to do with food safety.

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Overhauling our date-labeling system is a straightforward, concrete solution that will reduce food waste.

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