• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
2m 37s

Confusion about food labels leads to waste, possible illnesses

By Agata Blaszczak-Boxe / CBS News 5:58 PM June 24, 2014

Consumers often get confused by date labeling on food products, and end up either keeping spoiled food around too long, or throwing away perfectly good food unnecessarily — costing us billions of dollars, experts say.

In new a survey by the public health and safety organization NSF International, researchers found that people have trouble understanding and differentiating between common food label terms such as “expiration date,” “best if used by date” and “sell by date.”

Consequently, almost half of Americans do not throw away food until they see mold or color changes. And 17 percent of Americans say they just toss food when it starts to smell.

Failing to discard food on time may result in exposure to pathogens such as salmonella or E. coli, Gina Nicholson, NSF International Global Client Director of Retail Food Services, told CBS News. Those contaminants are especially dangerous to children under 5, elderly people and those whose immunity has been compromised by illnesses such as cancer or HIV.

At the same time, the authors of a review paper published this week in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety stressed that the lack of understanding of different date labeling terms may in fact encourage people to throw food away too soon and therefore contribute to food waste that is already a significant problem in developed countries.

The authors called for increased collaboration between food manufacturers and regulatory agencies to provide a better and more uniform food labeling system.

“We are throwing away a third of our food (globally),” study author William Fisher, VP at the Institute of Food Technologists Science and Policy Initiatives, told CBS News, adding that confusion over product labeling certainly contributes to the extent of food waste.

In the U.S. alone, about 133 billion pounds of food — almost a third of the total available at the retail and consumer level — is wasted each year, according to 2010 figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. That translates into an estimated $161.6 billion in retail value.

So what do consumers need to know about date labels on food? Fisher explained the differences:

“Sell by date” is most important for retailers, telling them when they should take a product off the shelves. However, it does not mean that the food is no longer safe to eat.

-“Expiration date” means a product should not be eaten after the date listed; throw it out.

-“Best if used by date” refers to the quality of the product, not its safety. In short, it means that the product will maintain its maximum quality until that date, but it can still be safe to eat for a certain amount of time (depending on the kind of product) after the date has passed.

© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Latest Stories

  • Politics

    House panel moves bill requesting sexual assault kit report

    by Associated Press on Mar 31, 10:56

    A House committee advanced a bill requesting a report on untested sexual assault kits after hearing public testimony supporting the effort. House State Affairs on Tuesday moved a new version of Rep. Geran Tarr’s bill, which would direct the state Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement to produce a report on untested sexual […]

  • Anchorage Centennial

    Local photographer featured in centennial documentary ‘Anchorage Is’

    by Daybreak Staff on Mar 31, 10:38

    Local photographer Clark James Mishler hasn’t missed taking someone’s portrait every day for the past five years. His work is featured in Anchorage’s official centennial celebration documentary “Anchorage Is…” “I think there’s a lot of photographic projects in the world where people go out and make a photo a day,” Mishler said. “I thought I would up […]

  • News

    Huslia board of fisheries member reappointed

    by Associated Press on Mar 31, 8:44

    Orville Huntington has been re-appointed to another term on the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Gov. Bill Walker appointed Huntington, a Huslia resident, to a three-year term that would begin July 1. The appointment must be confirmed by the Legislature. Huntington was first appointed to the board by former Gov. Sean Parnell in 2012. His current […]

  • Weather

    Daybreak weather, March 31

    by Brett Shepard on Mar 31, 8:27

    Southcentral Mostly cloudy skies today with a good chance of rain showers for the Prince William Sound and eastern Kenai Peninsula. Southeast Cloudy skies with a good chance of rain at times. Interior Partly cloudy skies and mild. North Slope Mostly cloudy skies throughout the day. Western Alaska Chilly to the north and mild to […]

  • On-Air

    Mystery disease: Fingernails tell all

    by Ivanhoe Newswire on Mar 31, 7:36

    Imagine losing your hair, vomiting every time you ate and living in extreme pain. Now, imagine if doctors couldn’t help you because they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. That’s exactly what happened to one woman — art teacher, Ingrid Dick. Dick says she loves watching her students at work, “just seeing what comes out of […]

  • Politics

    House poised to consider school bond bill

    by Associated Press on Mar 31, 6:52

    The Alaska House is poised to consider legislation that would pause state spending on new school debt. SB 64 passed the Senate last week. A legislative attorney, in a memo to Senate Finance co-chair Anna MacKinnon, says the bill would have to pass the Legislature and be signed by the governor before an Anchorage election […]

  • Lifestyle

    Drone development in Alaska still on track

    by Kate McPherson on Mar 30, 23:23

    Funding cuts to the University of Alaska system threatened the state’s unmanned aircraft development program, but a Senate subcommittee restored the nearly $1.9 million needed for fiscal year 2016. There are still a number of steps in the legislative process before the funding is confirmed, but staff and engineers with the Alaska Center for Unmanned […]

  • Sports

    Annie Rush gets hat trick as West beats East, 4-0

    by KTVA Sports on Mar 30, 22:46

    It was not until the second half of the game when the West Anchorage High School girls soccer team started pulling away from East High during Monday’s 4-0 win over the T-Birds. But when it rained it poured, as Annie Rush scored three goals and her sister, Rosie, added another. Less than five minutes into […]