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The Food "Dating Game" | Climate Action Now | Food Choices - May 16, 2013
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Omlette with salsaWhile reaching for a jar of salsa in the nether reaches of your refrigerator, you stumble upon a dozen eggs and you have absolutely no clue when they took up residence. You’re thinking that salsa would sure be tasty on an omelet and the eggs look good, but the date on the carton is a month old. To scramble or not to scramble, that is the dilemma.

If you’re confused by dating, you’re not alone. Research in the United Kingdom showed that 50 percent of consumers were confused by packaging dates and that lack of knowledge contributed to household food losses of 20 percent. Even though label dates are not regulated, do not denote food safety, and are inconsistent in their meaning, most people think the date they see indicates whether their food is a treat or trash.

Here’s what you need to know:

“Display until” or “sell by” dates are used by some stores to help with stock control and are instructions for staff, not shoppers. Many stores remove items from their shelves shortly before or at the sell-by date, even though they are perfectly fine to eat.

“Use by'' and “best before” are manufacturer’s suggestions for when food is at its peak quality. That’s all. The exception to this is infant formula for which dates are federally regulated.

The UK government now suggests that “sell by” and “display until” dates be removed to avoid confusing shoppers; “best before” dates should indicate quality; and “use by” denotes food safety and stores should not sell product after this date. Hopefully, US retailers will get up to date and change their habits to reduce waste (and costs) and help consumers find fresh food love in all the right places.

And that omelet? Get crackin’ on those eggs as soon as possible. According to the Egg Safety Center they’re good for 4-5 weeks after the carton’s Julian date.

The UK’s Love Food, Haste Waste program and World Environment Day’s  Think. Eat. Save campaign both have additional tips on deciphering the food label code. (P.S. Portland is the North American Host City for World Environment Day on June 5, 2013.)

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