By Nathaniel Sillin
How many times have you gone to pour milk in your coffee, only to see that the date on the carton was yesterday? Some people will instinctively throw it away, but chances are that’s not what the label is intended to convey. It’s likely a marker for when the food might taste its best, not if it’s safe to eat.
By some estimates, as many as 91 percent of consumers may misinterpret food date labels. It’s no surprise as there are dozens of different labels in use, but the misunderstanding and lack of meal planning are contributing to a larger problem. Between 30 and 40 percent of the U.S.’s food supply winds up in the trash or a compost container.
The benefits of reducing food waste are numerous. You’ll save money, which may be reason enough. You could also be lowering your carbon footprint by keeping spoiled food out of landfills and cutting down on the growing and transportation of food that doesn’t get eaten.
Cutting back on this waste could start with understanding what food labels actually mean.
Don’t misinterpret food dates as expiration dates. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), aside from on infant formula, food label dates aren’t an indication of whether or not the food is safe to eat. For example, “best by” may mean the food will taste, look and feel its best if its eaten by that date. It could still be good for days, weeks or even months (for non-perishables) after that date.
Some states do require expiration dates on milk or meat and food labeling could become less confusing across the country. But for now, you may need to rely on your judgment. The USDA writes that if foods don’t show signs of spoilage, such as changing colors or giving off an unpleasant smell, they could still be safe and wholesome.
Quick tips for keeping fruit and vegetables fresh for longer. Regardless of the date, proper food storage can impact a food’s longevity.
· Wait to wash food until you’re about to cook or eat. Otherwise, the moisture could spur bacterial growth.
· Strategically store items in your refrigerator. Your food will typically last longer if you put the least perishable items on the door, meat near the bottom back (unless there’s a meat drawer), veggies in the crisper and dairy or drinks near the top.
· Generally, you want to keep fruits and vegetables away from each other because many fruits produce ethylene gas and exposure to the gas could cause vegetables to spoil more quickly. There are also vegetables that produce the gas and fruits that are sensitive to it.
· If you’re storing a fruit or vegetable that gives off and is susceptible to ethylene gas, wrap it in aluminum foil or store it in a paper bag rather than using less-breathable plastic wrap or bags.