US: Food date labels create massive food waste
More than 90% of Americans are confused by the “sell by”, “use by” and “best before” labels on the foods sold at grocery stores – and prematurely discard edibles because they’ve misinterpreted the dates stamped on the products, according to a report released this week.
Many consumers read an item’s sell-by date as an indicator of when the food will spoil. But it’s an inaccurate assumption, according to a study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic.
Manufacturers use sell-by dates to help retailers manage their inventory. It encourages stores to sell a product within a specific time frame so that the item still has a shelf life once it’s purchased.
Not even the common “best before” and “use by” labels indicate a deadline after which products go bad, according to researchers. Instead, they are producer estimates of how long the food will be at peak quality.
“Expiration dates are in need of some serious myth-busting because they’re leading us to waste money and throw out perfectly good food, along with all of the resources that went into growing it,” said Dana Gunders, an NRDC staff scientist. “Phrases like ‘sell by’, ’use by’, and ‘best before’ are poorly regulated, misinterpreted and leading to a false confidence in food safety.”
The misunderstanding comes at a steep price. Last year, the NRDC found that Americans throw out as much as 40% of the country’s food supply each year, adding up to $165-billion in losses.
Food waste makes up the largest portion of solid trash in landfills, according to researchers.
Some $900-million of expired food is dumped from the supply chain annually, much of it a result of confusion. Misinterpreted date labels cause the average American household of four to lose as much as $455 a year on squandered food, according to researchers…..
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One-third of food wasted worldwide, UN says
The world throws away one-third of food produced yearly, making food waste the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions behind those produced by the US and China, according to a UN report released recently.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization study found 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year, contributing to economic losses that total $750 billion yearly.
The focus of the report, however, was to examine the environmental impacts of food waste. To that end, the UN estimated the carbon footprint of the problem is equivalent to 3.3-billion tons of carbon dioxide every year.
The US’ and China’s carbon footprints are larger; each produces the equivalent of nearly 7-billion tons of carbon dioxide for each country every year.
The report’s authors tried to put the food waste into context: For instance, food that is produced but not eaten uses up a volume of water equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River, the longest river in Europe.
“All of us – farmers and fishers, food processors and supermarkets, local and national governments, individual consumers – must make changes at every link of the human food chain to prevent food wastage from happening in the first place, and re-use or recycle it when we can’t,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.
The report also tried to pinpoint where in the food production process waste occurs and found most food waste occurs “upstream,” meaning after food is harvested, handled and stored.
In general, food waste in developing countries occurs during the agricultural production. Food waste that occurs at the retail and consumer level occurs more frequently in countries with higher incomes.
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