The average U.S. household of four is losing $275 to $455 per year on food needlessly thrown away because of misleading or misunderstood “sell by” labeling, according to a new study.
More than 90 percent of Americans prematurely trash food because they believe certain information on labels is a good indicator of food safety. They mostly base their decision on the “sell by” date — when actually there is no indication that the food is unsafe by that date.
“We need a standardized, commonsense date labeling system that actually provides useful information to consumers, rather than the unreliable, inconsistent and piecemeal system we have today,” said Emily Broad Leib, lead author of the new report and director of Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic.
According to the new report, co-authored by the Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. consumers and businesses throw out billions of pounds of food every year out of confusion caused by America’s food-expiration date labeling practices.
For the vast majority of food products, manufacturers are free to determine date shelf life according to their own methods, the researchers said.
The Harvard Law/NRDC study, “The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America” (PDF) is considered the first legal analysis of federal and state laws related to date labels across all 50 states and presents recommendations for a new system for food date labeling. Regardless of whether you are selling food in a large supermarket retailer, or in a local corner shop, having correct and accurate details placed on your products is vital, as it will enable customers to know everything they need to know about these goods so that they don’t waste their money on unsuitable items. To do this, having a look into marking and coding products like the Paul Leibinger GmbH & Co. JET One industrial inkjet printer, for example, can help people to recognize all of the important information about your product, which could prevent them from being misled, as well as being able to save money in the process by eating foods that are deemed safe.
The report finds that the confusion “created by this range of poorly regulated and inconsistent labels” leads to results that undermine the intent of the labeling, including:
- False Notions that Food is Unsafe – 91 percent of consumers occasionally throw food away based on the “sell by” date out of a mistaken concern for food safety even though none of the date labels actually indicate food is unsafe to eat;
- Consumer Confusion Costs – an estimated 20 percent of food wasted in U.K. households is due to misinterpretation of date labels. Extending the same estimate to the U.S., the average household of four is losing $275-$455 per year on food needlessly trashed;
- Business Confusion Costs – an estimated $900 million worth of expired food is removed from the supply chain every year. While not all of this is due to confusion, a casual survey of grocery store workers found that even employees themselves do not distinguish between different kinds of dates;
- Mass Amounts of Wasted Food – The labeling system is one factor leading to an estimated 160 billion pounds of food trashed in the U.S. every year, making food waste the single largest contributor of solid waste in the nation’s landfills.
“This comprehensive review provides a blueprint calling on the most influential date label enforcers – food industry actors and policymakers – to create and foster a better system that serves our health, pocketbooks and the environment,” Leib said.