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Given the lack of standardization, a number of different food date labels have emerged; the report identifies the following most common labels: • – this label is used by some manufacturers, but isn't clearly defined. Note that these terms aren’t strictly or officially defined – and the meaning can vary by product and by manufacturer.
As if this didn't create enough ambiguity, given the lack of federal regulation or universally accepted best practices, food companies are often free to decide whether to include date labels at all – and they don’t always do so with the consumer's best interests in mind.
As a result, methodology varies widely, and is often based not on food safety, nutritional value or usability, but rather on safeguarding product and brand reputation.
Because though food waste causes environmental damage, squanders natural resources, consumes landfill space, uses tax dollars and costs consumers millions, if your business model involves maximizing profits with absolutely no regard for the greater social good, then premature fear-based food trashing can be very lucrative.
Paradoxically, the existing food date labeling scheme may actually public safety due to consumers' overreliance on these dates as sound indicators of food safety.
The exceptionally comprehensive report can be summarized as follows: the US food date labeling system is terrible.
Date labels are very poorly regulated, ill-defined and inconsistently applied.
The report provides the following recommendations: Sell by dates are intended for stock control; they're not indicators of food quality or food safety. The solution: move to a closed-dating system for stock control ( That is, don't base dates on best guesses, but on sound science.