Limiting Food Waste Starts With Understanding Food Labels

With so many labels and expiration dates on our all food at home — sell by, best by, enjoy by, fresh until, display until, best before — it’s no wonder anyone could get confused with what and when something should be tossed out. Especially when it says expired, yet it looks ok. But, does that expiration date mean you’ll get sick? It’s so unclear.

In fact, a study by the Harvard Law School Food Policy Clinic found that more than 90% of Americans toss food too early due to misunderstanding the date labels on their grocery items.

Not studied are the number of people who have had that disappointed, sinking feeling that ruins the eating experience when you’re about to enjoy that perfect snack...only to find out that it’s maybe expired. We’ve all been there, so we imagine that expiration date confusion and let-down is probably closer to 100% of us, don’t you agree?

However, more than annoyance and confusion — not to mention the huge waste of money when we throw out potentially expired food — the popular wisdom of “if in doubt, throw it out” is also contributing to global warming.

Tremendous amounts of our food waste are piling up in our landfills, with the EPA estimating that approximately 20% of methane emissions in the United States is coming from our landfills due to rotting food, like fruits and vegetables. It’s possible that an increase in clarity around our food’s expiration dates could lead to a decrease in waste by helping us all use more and toss less.

Thankfully, conversations around food waste and its effects on the environment are becoming much more common, so new solutions are arising everyday. Recently, in an effort to increase clarity for consumers, the FDA announced a joint effort with many food brands, along with the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, to simplify expiration labels on food packaging — narrowing the options from as many as 10 to just 2.

With fewer options, consumers will hopefully be able to make more informed decisions when it comes to buying and throwing away their food items. 

The narrowed-down date labels now fall into two categories: Best If Used By and Use By

Best If Used By lets you know that, after a specified date, your food may not taste as expected, or be as high a quality, but it can still be used or consumed as long as it does not show any clear sign of spoiling or rotting.

Use By applies to perishable products that should be consumed by the date on the package and discarded after that date.

While the FDA is not regulating this updated dating and language, it fully supports the efforts by the food industry and is aiming for total adoption by January 2020. In fact, this recent release inspired the ZENB team to revisit our own labels, which we hope to update very soon by further clarifying our messaging, updating our current Best By labels to Best If Used By.

“While standardizing the use of date labels for quality reasons is encouraged as a best practice, we know that labeling is not enough,” said Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner of Food Policy and Response. “FDA supports ongoing consumer education efforts by industry, government, and non-government organizations to educate consumers on what quality-based date labels mean and how to use them to further reduce food waste in the home."

That’s why it’s important that if you have questions or concerns about the quality, safety, or labeling of the foods you buy, definitely reach out to the company. While limiting food waste, saving money, and helping the environment, the health and well-being of you and your family is still a priority.

Have any questions about our packaging and labelling specifically, and how it affects shelf life and expiration dates, reach out to us at We’re always open to great conversations around minimizing food waste on our planet.