“Sell By” Dates, Not What You Think

In 2013, Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council released an astonishing report with some stunning facts about the amount of food thrown away. However, not all of the blame can be placed on you consumers as food corporations have most of the autonomy in determining the food expiration date. One ambiguity perpetrated is the “sell by” date, which does not pertain to the safety of the food but still causes 91% of customers to throw food out after this date. Unbeknownst to most, the “sell by” dates are meant strictly for businesses. Misinterpretations such as these contribute to a staggering 20% of food waste in the UK and set the average household of four back $275-$455 annually. In addition to monetary waste, expiration dates were noted as a major contributor to the 160 billion pounds of food wasted in the US every year, the largest constituent of solid waste in landfills. Now, what can you do? For starters you can follow my guide:

  • Sell by date: Market must take food off of the shelf
  • Best if used by date: After this date food may become stale or lose some flavor
  • Pack Date: Markets use this date to control inventory; food may be good for years after this date
  • Use by date: Similar to “Best if Used by” date, marks decline in quality
  • Expiration date: Pertains to safety or functionaliy, should not be used after this date
  • Quality Assurance date: Marks change in flavor or texture, most likely still safe after

Ultimately, when you look in your fridge and the “Sell by” date has passed, not only is it most likely still safe, but throwing the food away actually contributes to a larger issue of food waste. Nevertheless if you are like me, food-poisoning puts me in bed for a couple days, so I will still look up the accuracy of expiration dates. I’m taking it one step at a time: I use dairy products up to a week after the “Sell By” date and eggs up to three weeks after the “Sell By” date! 


References: Harvard Law Today, HLS Food Law and Policy Clinic co-authors groundbreaking report on food date labeling and food waste, https://hls.harvard.edu/today/hls-food-law-and-policy-clinic-co-authors-groundbreaking-report-on-food-date-labeling-and-food-waste/

Nourish, Food Expiration Dates: What to Know, https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/do-food-expiration-dates-matter#:~:text=Sell%2DBy%20Date&text=Stores%20use%20this%20date%20to,after%20the%20sell%2Dby%20date.