You're what you eat (Blog 7)

Eyes on Expiration


When you go grocery shopping, do you look out for expiration dates? Do you ever pop inside your refrigerator to grab something to eat, and find yourself looking at an item’s expiration date before deciding whether to eat it or throw it away? Expiration dates play an important (and recently controversial) role in America’s food supply. The following YouTube video explains the results of a recent study released by Harvard Law School, which concludes that the expiration date labels on food products in the United States are not always accurate; oftentimes, we can safely eat food beyond the dates printed on these labels. This raises concerns regarding America’s food supply because it questions whether Americans are throwing away food too early, which contributes to unnecessary waste.

(Video Source)

I’m not sure about you, but I was definitely able to relate to this video. I will throw away food in my refrigerator if the item’s expiration date has passed–even if just by a day or two. Despite whether the food still looks like it may be okay, I think it has magically turned into an unknown substance that is no longer edible. Maybe it’s a mental thing? I’m not sure, but I’m happy to know I’m not the only one with this “fear.”

expired food

(Image Source)

Something from the video that really stood out to me was that there are no clear ‘rules’ governing expiration dates for America’s food supply. Dates vary, depending on the food’s location in the United States. This basically means that a gallon of milk I buy at a grocery store in New York may have an entirely different expiration date from the same gallon of milk sold by a grocery store in Florida. This doesn’t make any sense.

expiration date

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Laci explains that researchers are encouraging the federal government to regulate and reform food labels. I fully support this initiative. Despite the fact that it is very difficult to predict exact dates for when foods will expire, I believe that an ethical consideration exists here. The FDA needs to establish a clear set of standards for food labeling; this way, it can protect people’s health and safety, while at the same time preventing unnecessary waste. Products should not be labeled with dates that are too early, so people will not dispose of perfectly edible food. Our society today can be pretty wasteful of our resources. If the government establishes new food labeling standards, we may be able to prevent future food waste accumulation.

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10 thoughts on “Eyes on Expiration

  1. When I took Econ 103 during the Freshman year, they had a guest speech about the expired date on the food. I remember clearly that he said the expired date was usually early than the real date of expiration, and the food was still edible after that date. But I still feel unconfident about the food after the date, and I wonder why not the factory just putting the real date on their products!

  2. I agree that there should be regulations on how expiration dates are determined. I think that food companies go by the saying “better safe than sorry” which is why they put early expiration dates on their food. I still eat food after its expiration date(depending on what it is) because I know that companies put early dates on. With earlier dates, it lessens the probability that the food will expire before the date, decreasing the chances that the company will be liable if someone gets sick from the food.

    • Good point. I agree than liability fear motivates food companies. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt if you throw away good food and need to buy a new stock from them….

  3. I couldn’t agree more with you on the topic here. Regardless of whether the food looks fine, if it is past the expiration date I will not go near it. I am not sure the reason but I have always been that way. I think reforms in the food labeling is an excellent idea and will be a big step in reducing the amount of food waste we create every day.

    • I agree with both Garett and yourself, if its expired I would rather throw it away than chance it, a luxury I am aware many people do not have. I also feel that it is in many ways a generational thing. From my experience adults seem to care less about the expiration date and in many cases live by the if it doesn’t hurt you it will only make you stronger approach to expiration dates. Either that or my mum is trying to kill me

  4. I was surprised by a lot of this information because I was so unaware of food expiration labels regulation. There definitely ought to be some consistent form to labeling. I wonder if the date is often earlier so that the companies are safeguarding against people getting sick within the expiration period and suing them or if they want you to throw it away faster so that you have to buy more sooner. With edible foods we need to decrease waste and this made me think about the potential benefits of composting. If I am throwing away right after the expiration, and so are so many others, that’s a lot more waste then I realized.

    • Emily, I was really surprised when I watched the video as well. I never really thought too deeply about expiration dates and regulation of them. Composting seems like a really good way to decrease the amount of food waste. Unfortunately, though, I feel like not many people think to do this. On the other hand, I think if expiration dates on food products were later, people would automatically keep food longer, which would result in less waste.

  5. I imagine that the food industry benefits from premature expiration dates. If we throw stuff out we have to buy more, so I understand why they have not taken an initiative to make this more accurate. The government however, has no excuse (except for being lobbied by the food industry?). It’s frustrating that it is not regulated because it leads to more energy used and waste (read:money lost) and everyone loses.

  6. I was shocked that there isn’t a standard way of labeling and determining expiration dates by now. Honestly when I’m at home and see that an expiration date has passed, if it’s a recent one, I just ask my mother if its still okay to eat or drink it. I have always known that some foods are still okay after the date, but I am never confident enough to make the decision myself of whether or not they’re okay. If its just me, I usually throw it out.

  7. FOr years I used the smell,l look, touch approach to judging food. My wife thought i was nuts. I have slowly won her over.

    I think there is some history to this. When people lived on farms more, like 2 generations ago, and would can or jar their own food, they did have to be careful. You can put nasty things like botulism in your canned peaches and not see or smell it.

    And hygiene and cleanliness were reinforced both as it was needed, but also, I think, as part of being “modern.”

    By knowing more about what foods can go bad and how, we can be more informed eaters. Like milk. You will ALWAYS know if your milk is bad.

    So, instead of only relying on labels from outsiders, maybe we can also teach people to understand food more.

    Americans supposedly love a good deal. Well, NOT throwing away good food is a good deal. Would you put three quarters down the drain? No. But that is what you do when you dump the last three glasses of milk just because it is past the pull date.

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