How Standardized Date Labels Will Cut Food Waste and Save Americans $29 Billion

Gone are the days where "sell-by" dates are confusing

expiration, food, milk
Companies will now be using standardized labels to help with confusion of "sell by" and "use by" dates.Kate Ter Haar

Finally, manufacturers have realized that "sell-by" dates are confusing and ineffective. If your carton of milk says "sell-by" tomorrow, but it's already in your fridge, how do you know when it actually goes bad? Chances are you just throw it away to be safe. According to NPR, Americans waste an estimated 133 billion pounds of food each year.

The Consumer Goods Forum, which represents over 400 retailers and manufacturers in the world, including Kellog’s, WalMart, and Nestle, announced on Wednesday their plans to standardize food date labels. Instead of using confusing labels like “sell-by,” the companies will use a uniform expiration date on perishable foods (i.e. “use by”), meaning you should throw the product away after the expiration date. On nonperishable items, they will use a standard food quality indicator (i.e. “best if used by”), meaning the product may not taste the same after the date, but it’s not unsafe to eat. The exact wording will vary based on region.

expiration, food, sell by date
Labels like "best if used by" will now have a standard meaning across food labels in 400 companies.Chris Waits

Using confusing date labels like "sell-by" is costing Americans up to $29 billion annually, according to the forum. That's $1,500 per average American family with children. By 2020, they hope to enact these policies worldwide, and by 2025, they believe this will cut companies' food waste in half, said Peter Freedman, managing director of the Consumer Goods Forum.

So, in the near future, Americans should be able to tell when their food is actually bad, protect our planet and save a pretty penny in the process.