These days, most consumers check the expiration dates of their perishable purchases, both before purchase and before consumption. They look for two familiar messages and accompanying dates: “Use by” and “Sell by.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the state of Florida require these messages and dates to ensure that the foods are consumed within a certain timeline in order to help ensure optimal freshness and safety.
There is a difference between the two. “The ‘Sell By’ date on a product is the item’s expiration date, the end of its shelf life at the store,” said Dr. Tiffiani J. Miller-Onifade, director division of food safety, FDACS. Miller-Onifade explained that this is the last date stores are supposed to display the product for sale, and after the sell-by date the stores should remove the product since the shelf life has expired. However, although the food product may be used and enjoyed past this date, it is not recommended to purchase a product if the sell-by date has passed.
“The ‘Use By’ date is the last day that the manufacturer vouches for the product’s quality,” said Miller-Onifade. The use-by date is the date that manufacturers’ recommend to use the product by for peak quality in the food. “While you may eat the food after the use-by date, it likely is not going to be at peak quality,” added Miller-Onifade.
While some foods, such as bread and bananas can be consumed when they have passed their prime, others such as infant formula, baby food, milk and oysters are more concerning and consumers should strictly abide by the dates shown.
The USDA offers helpful information on their website about Food Product Dating, along with food safety guidelines on a variety of foods.
As food prices have continued to rise, consumers are continually looking for ways to stretch and save. In fact, according to the USDA’s Food Price Outlook, 2014, “The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food increased 0.4 percent from March to April, increased 0.3 percent from February to March, and is now 1.9 percent above the April 2013 level.” The rising cost of food puts a greater dent into an already stretched family dollar.
Still, even with the rising costs of food, studies conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic have shown that 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten, which amounts to $165 billion each year. Clearly too much is wasted.
While day old bread stores have been around for awhile, near-expired foods have long been found on clearance racks at grocery stores, and farmer’s markets have traditionally been known to offer discounts on items like brown bananas or blemished tomatoes, what is changing is that companies like The Daily Table, are capitalizing on the idea that less needs to be wasted and more needs to be saved.
The Daily Table, founded by Trader Joe’s ex-president, Doug Rauch, is an expired food market that opened their doors in Dorchester, Mass., earlier this year. The market receives tax-deductible food donations from other grocery stores, such as produce and other perishables, along with those goods that have damaged packaging. The discounted food is offered for purchase to consumers who are glad to enjoy the savings. Some of the foods are repurposed and sold as hot meal items at the store.
Although consumers have long turned old bread into bread pudding, blended blemished fruits into smoothies, and added limp vegetables to a stew, it looks as though the trend using food that once was simply tossed, is now becoming mainstream.