Expiration date jargon has consumers confused about when to throw away food

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A multitude of expiration date phrases have led to confusion about when food is no longer edible. (KABC)

Milk, meat, eggs have them. So do canned and frozen foods. Even foods that seemingly won't spoil have expiration dates.

"Sell by," "use by," even "enjoy by" have us thinking twice about whether they're safe to eat.

"It's confusing, though -- that 'use by' or something, 'best by,'" said Sandy Lew of Santa Monica.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council America, the average family of four throws away $1,500 worth of food as 90 percent of consumers misinterpret date labels.

Surprisingly, the dates on these packages are often for retailers as an indicator for pulling stock, or a suggestion to help determine the food's quality. Fresher might look, feel and taste better.

Infant formula is the only food on the market that requires an expiration date by federal law.

A product will not necessarily go bad on its expiration date, but rather the nutrients can lose value over time.

With 10 different phrases used to inform consumers, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute are asking manufacturers and producers to embrace only two phrases: "best if used by" and "use by."

"I think the initiative that simplifies all the dates will be really really helpful and cut down on food waste," said dietitian Maya Feller.

The Department of Agriculture is encouraging food manufacturers to use only "best if used by" universally on eggs, meat and dairy products.

The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates canned foods and produce, has not yet made any requests.

If consumers can refrain from throwing away food because of a date stamp, experts suggest the end result will be less wasted food, less wasted water, less pollution and less wasted money.
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