How often do you wonder whether the food in your refrigerator is safe to eat? You know that block of cheddar cheese with a bit of mold? The carton of eggs dated last month? The once gorgeous spinach from the farmer’s market that now looks limp and unappealing. How about that can of beans in your cupboard, dated—yikes in June 2015!
When you look at labels, are you puzzled by what those—“use by”, “best by”, and “sell by” dates mean? Should you eat the food or throw it out?
A new national survey shows the confusion among consumers’ perceptions about what these date labels mean. “Many people throw away food once the date on the package has passed because they mistakenly think the date is an indicator of safety,” explains Emily Broad Leib, Director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and co-author of the new study. She explains that with few exceptions, food is safe long past its package date. These dates convey the manufacturer’s best guess of the food’s peak quality, not it’s safety. In fact this confusion leads to a lot of wasted food and wasted resources used in producing it, as well as hungry households.
Many people throw away food once the date on the package has passed because they mistakenly think the date is an indicator of safety. –Emily Broad Leib, Director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic.
In Montgomery County, 23% (146,000 tons per year) of solid waste is food waste. The SaveTheFood.com website finds that 90% of us throw away food too soon and that each of us tosses nearly 300 lbs. of food each year.
Food safety is paramount for every food service provider and even more so for those working in food recovery, because the rescued food may have a short shelf life. CFR in collaboration with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services has developed a uniform set of Food Safety Guidelines for our donors, recipients, and volunteers.
We’ve also developed a simple brochure, Keeping Food Safe from Pantry to Plate, available in six languages, to guide all consumers on what package dates mean, the shelf-life of common foods, clues to determine food safety, and safe food storage practices.
To test your knowledge of food safety, take this 10 question quiz to see how much you know. We offered this quiz as a game at the recent Feeding 5,000 event held in Washington DC—a huge lunch-time event that fed more than 6,000 people with vegetable curry and paella using surplus produce that would have been tossed.
The event, staged in cities around the world, brings awareness of food waste to the public. At the CFR activity tent, 22 people played our mobile app. game.
SPOILER ALERT! TAKE THE QUIZ BEFORE READING ON TO SEE HOW YOUR ANSWERS COMPARED TO THE GROUP.
Almost all of the game players knew that bruised or imperfect looking fruits and vegetables should still be purchased and eaten. Most people also knew what to do when they have a lot of leftover food from a party—if food was left out of at an improper temperature for more than four hours, throw it away; if food was not prepared by a licensed caterer, freeze it for later home use; and if food was prepared by a licensed caterer, donate it to CFR!
This spring, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, introduced The Food Date Labeling Act to create a standard federal date labeling system to distinguish between food quality (using labeling such as: best if used by) and food safety (using labeling such as: expires on).
Whether you are a CFR Food Runner or a home consumer, everyone should know when food is safe to eat and follow simple food handling practices that will keep food safe. CFR seeks volunteer food runners to transport surplus food from food donor businesses to food assistance organizations in Montgomery County. Click HERE to learn more and to sign up.