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‘Sell By,’ ‘Best Before,’ ‘Eat By’ dates to become a thing of the past

(Fox 17 News)

For decades, we've been scratching our heads trying to figure out what dates on our food mean. We take a bite at the confusion and the solution coming to a shelf near you.

You've done it. We've all done it. We’ve thrown out food because we just weren't sure.

Green Hills shopper Rosemary Hamilton laughs it off. After all, she is a retired stand up comedian adding, “Well, if they're expensive, I eat them a year later.” (laughs)

The rest of us aren't sure what these 10 different date labels mean…. sell by, use by, eat by, expires on, enjoy by, best before, guaranteed fresh and the list goes on and on and on.

Some dates don’t even have any wording. There’s just a date with no explanation. One shopper thinks she knows what that is saying, “That could be its birthday, anything really.”

The State of Tennessee can't really help us either. Shanna Lively a Food Scientist & Administrator with the Tennessee Agriculture Department explains, “We're a no date state; no regulations here that our inspectors go into a store to actually look for expired products.”

Our inspectors focus instead on proper food handling and storage, not on the labeled dates.

A Harvard study shows 90% of us throw out food too early because we don't understand the dates. The National Resources Defense Council says that's about $1500 dollars worth of food thrown out a year per family. That’s roughly $29 billion annually and with a global food shortage, that's hard to swallow.

One shopper says, “poisonous by” would be more helpful.

The USDA's asked manufacturers to get on the same page with voluntary guidelines for food makers. Even the AD Council's gotten involved with “Save The Food” public service announcements highlighting the waste.

Congress has also tried to get food makers on the same page with The Date Labeling Act, but lawmakers keep throwing that out too.

Now finally, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute seem to be taking real action. They've gotten the CEO's of 50 major brands like Nestle, Campbell's, and Kellogg’s to all use the same language by 2020.

That means in a year and a half, you could soon only see these two phrases "Use By" or "Best If Used By."

In the meantime, reach to the back for the freshest produce and products and keep track of when you opened it. Lively with the Agriculture Department explains, “So different microorganisms could grow that wouldn't have once that seal is broken.”

If all else fails, the nose knows. Give it the old fashioned smell test.

Many food companies have already started printing the new 'Use By' language exclusively. The rest will follow suit within the next 18 months.

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