Did you know that developed countries waste between 30 to 60 percent of the food that is produced? That’s an astronomical amount of waste! In fact, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that each year, roughly 1.3 billion tonnes of perfectly edible food ends up in the trash and, subsequently, is tossed into landfills.

When food slowly decomposes in landfills, it emits methane into the atmosphere. This gas exacerbates climate change through the greenhouse gas effect, which affects all life on our planet, as well as future generations. Furthermore, this tragedy exists while more than 795 million people still go to bed hungry each evening.

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Why are people tossing food while it’s still good? The answer primarily comes down to “best before” dates. Consumers have been taught that as soon as a food reaches its expiration date, it will contribute to poor health or is no longer edible. But, we now know this isn’t true.

According to food scientist Dr. Gary Sandberg, people commonly mistake the best before dates as an expiration date. In reality, the two labels are very different. Sandberg says “best before” dates relate to “food quality” and have nothing to do with “food safety.” Additionally, these dates are only printed on products with a shelf life of 90 days.

Gary Perkin/Shutterstock

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The food scientist says that if you open up your fridge and find a container of food with an expired best before date, test its quality. You might be surprised to find that though it lost some of its freshness and/or flavor, it is still perfectly edible. Of course, once opened, the product’s shelf life may decrease rapidly. “As long as it’s sitting in the package, then it is not going to be a food safety risk, it’s going to be more of a loss of quality,” said Sandberg.

Expiration dates, on the other hand, tell consumers the last day a product is safe to consume. Most of these foods are clearly marked with “EXP” or “Expiry.” In most cases, the food is no longer safe to consume beyond this date; there are exceptions, of course. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has outlined only five products that require expiration dates:

  • Baby formula or other human milk substitutes
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Meal replacements
  • Pharmacist-sold foods for low-energy diets
  • Specially-formulated liquid diets

The average consumer uses only a few products that fall within these categories. If that’s shocking, you may be most surprised to learn that canned foods require no “best before” date at all. As long as they are intact and stored in a moderate temperature, they have an almost indefinite shelf life. If you consume a recently-purchased can of beans in 20 years, however, don’t be surprised by a change in the food’s quality and texture.

In summary, most of the food in your pantry or fridge will last much longer than you probably believe. Knowing this key truth is vital in reducing food waste, combatting world hunger, and benefiting the environment. This is also why the supermarket chain Tesco is completely eliminating “best before” dates.

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Efforts to Combat Food Waste 

In a bid to reduce food waste, Tesco is removing all “best before” dates on roughly 70 percent of fruit and vegetable lines. The move is being made to help prevent perfectly edible food from being thrown away,” said the company in a statement.

The supermarket was heavily swayed by a recent campaign by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI). The organization polled the public and found that less than half of respondents understood the meaning of “best before” dates. On the plus side, more than 70 percent of people correctly identified the meaning of the ‘Use By’ label.

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“We know some customers may be confused by the difference between ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use By’ dates on food and this can lead to perfectly edible items being thrown away before they need to be discarded,” said Tesco Head of Food Waste, Mark Little. “We have made this change to fruit and vegetable packaging as they are among the most wasted foods.”

So, what happens when a supermarket nixes all “best before” dates? Nutritious, edible food is prevented from going in the trash, the plight to end world hunger gets slightly easier, and present and future generations benefit, as does the environment. Hopefully, other supermarkets will follow Tesco’s lead and remove all best before dates to help put an end to food waste.

Simple Ways You Can Reduce Food Waste at Home

To learn more about how you can cut down on food waste at home, check out these:

Lead Image Source: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

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