30 Reasons Why Expiry Dates Are Fake

By Sarah Jones 9 months ago

1. They were originally made to help supermarkets rotate their stock

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As people started shopping at supermarkets instead of small grocery stores after World War II, manufacturers started putting expiry dates on labels for food on cans and packages. However, they were only added to help supermarkets figure out when to rotate their stock.

2. Supermarkets and manufacturers know they're popular with consumers

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As consumers got used to seeing these labels appearing on food products, customers started relying on them more and more to get the freshest food possible. And the more customers demanded these labels, the more the supermarkets added them to their products!

3. There are no federal government guidelines on expiry dates other than baby formulas

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In the 1970s, the federal government made a fair few attempts to standardize expiry date labels across the country, but they ultimately failed. The only legislation that was created for food products was for baby formulas, which have super strict guidelines.

4. This means that industry standards for expiry dates are often 'voluntary'

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Yep, you heard us right. Generally speaking, food manufacturers and supermarkets don’t actually need to put expiry dates on their products, as this is often voluntary. As no federal legislation exists, it means that food expiry dates and legislation can vary pretty wildly across the country.

5. States decided on food labels and expiry dates

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Seeing as there are no countrywide laws, individual states have to decide on food legislation. One state might not require any labels for foods at all, while others might be a whole lot stricter. And even if there ARE laws about food labels, a lot of them won’t mention expiry dates.

6. This why labels are inconsistent

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State-to-state discrepancies are therefore super common, and explain why so many expiry dates and food labels are inconsistent. You might find a ‘best before’ date on one product, a ‘sell by’ label on another, and an actual expiry date on different foods. No wonder it can get confusing.

7. Expiry dates don't explain when food is at its safest

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As expiry dates and food labels can even be inconsistent across the same brand and supermarket, they therefore don’t indicate when food is at its safest. Most packaged foods are generally fine to consume past their sell-by, best before or expiry date, with some lasting months.

8. Despite their labels, canned and frozen foods can actually last years

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Some foods, like frozen food or those in cans, can actually last years and years. While expiry dates for these foods are often more generous than those on fresh products, they will often be fine way beyond the sell-by label or expiry date. Just be sure to store these foods properly.

9. A lot of expired food might not taste as good, but it won't kill you (probably)

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The little packet of candy you forgot about which is a month out of date can still be eaten. It might be a little less crunchy or tasty, but it definitely won’t kill you. Just be super careful with meat, fish and dairy and salad products, and exercise some common sense.

10. It's not scientific - it's just about so-called 'freshness'

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So as you can see, the rules around expiry dates aren’t exactly tight. Most of the standards are fairly subjective, and revolve around the idea of ‘freshness’. But this contributes pretty heavily to food waste issues across the country, and it doesn’t exactly benefit the customer or farmers either.

11. But manufacturers benefit from them

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The only people who realistically benefit from expiry dates and food labels are producers and manufacturers. The shorter the expiry date, the quicker the food apparently needs replacing, which brings in more money for brands and food companies. Something to think about…

12. Expiry dates correspond with making you sick

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A lot of us are led to believe that once a food product exceeds its expiry date, it immediately means that you’ll get sick if you eat it after this time. But this just isn’t true. A lot of food should be fine a few days after this. It just might not be as fresh and tasty as it may have been before.

13. Manufacturers use expiry dates to 'protect' their brand

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Expiry dates are a way for manufacturers to ‘protect’ their brand and keep making money. For example, if you buy a certain brand of yogurt and you eat it slightly past its peak, you might well decide you don’t like the taste, and switch to another brand.

14. There's a public education problem around expiry dates

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Some experts have claimed that while we can blame manufacturers for expiry dates, there’s still a public education problem with food labels. So many of us throw products away when they go past their expiry date, when we should actually keep food for longer to minimize food waste.

15. And this is rooted in our consumer mindset

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The reason that so many manufacturers can get away with putting expiry dates on food products is that we have a deep-rooted consumer mindset. All too often, people not only buy way more food than they need, but also throw it out as soon as it goes past its sell-by.

16. Brands have too much power in the West

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Western brands have managed to create the narrative that aging food is bad. However, in non-western cultures, mold and bacteria are all part of the process. Foods like kimchi, cheese and salami need to be aged, but big American brands try to convince us that these natural processes will make us sick.

17. This problem is worsened by social media

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As we know live in ‘food as status performance’ culture thanks to social media, manufacturers can get away with pushing consumers to buy new food products rather than using the ones they have already. Social media encourages people to test out that new recipe they found on TikTok, or buy ingredients they saw on Instagram.

18. Supermarkets only throw things out to cover themselves

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Supermarkets throw tons of food out every single day, as they can’t risk being sued by customers who might claim that certain food products have made them ill. But this is also because supermarkets like to keep their shelves fully stocked, which means they always have more than they can sell.

19. And people generally don't want to buy products that only have a couple of days left

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Because we’re so used to huge choices and abundance at supermarkets, a lot of people won’t generally buy food products that have just a couple of days left on the expiry date. We might not realize it, but supermarkets have dictated our shopping habits, and we don’t tend to buy things we don’t think are fresh (or look good).

20. The government is looking to 'fix' the problem, but it's proving difficult

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A 2013 Harvard Study found that standardizing food labels across the entire country could boost the economy and reduce food waste levels, so the government has decided to try and act. However, it’s still an uphill battle, as certain administrations haven’t really prioritized this issue.

21. Some states are trying to pass laws to standardize expiry dates

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This means that some states have tried to tackle the problem themselves by creating legislation focused on expiry dates and food labeling. But this is expensive and time-consuming, so some states have once again given up. They prefer to let food manufacturers create their own legislation.

22. But it's not just laws - food culture needs to change too

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While laws and regulations definitely need to change, there needs to be a public health program that helps people think more carefully about expiry dates and wastage. Lots of countries like the UK have ran campaigns to educate people on when to throw food away and what’s safe to eat.

23. And we need to think about how food is donated to food banks

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If there’s less hesitancy about ‘freshness’ dates, it will allow more food to be donated and distributed to charities and food banks. There will be less fear from supermarkets about whether they’ll face legal penalties, which will massively reduce food waste.

24. We therefore need to trust our senses when deciding on whether food has expired

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All of the above means we need to start trusting our senses to suss out when food has gone off instead of supermarkets and manufacturers. Look carefully at a food product, ensuring there are no suspicious signs of mold or bacteria. You should also give food a smell to ensure it's still safe to eat.

25. The Harvard study also found that food expiry dates are misleading

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The 2013 study by Harvard’s Law School also found that because expiry dates are so inconsistent, they’re actually misleading and confusing consumers. This has resulted in Americans throwing billions of pounds of food away that is perfectly safe to eat.

26. But the Food Marketing Institute has hit back

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However, this has got some food manufacturers worried. The Food Marketing Institute agreed that while there should be a better way to deal with expiry dates, it said that these codes shouldn’t be hidden from customers, as hidden codes would make things ‘difficult’ for supermarkets.

27. Researchers have unveiled their findings about food-borne illnesses

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Dr. Theodore Labuza, food safety scientist at the University of Minnesota, said that during his 30-year career reviewing food labels, he’s not once found any outbreaks of food-borne illnesses that have come from foods that have gone past their expiry dates (when stored safely).

28. Which has backed up renewed calls for legislation changes

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In 2023, there seems to be progress with expiry date labels in the US. There’s now a group in Congress that is aiming to create standardized labels across the country, and they’re currently introducing legislation to make this happen. This will help consumers save money and reduce food waste.

29. And there's now a Food Date Labeling Act

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The Food Labeling Act of 2023 is a food labeling system that focuses on a ‘Best if Used by Date’. This removes the confusion of expiry dates and sell-by dates, making it easier for consumers to work on when to eat their food. This also means that food that runs past this date can still be sold or donated.

30. This should help consumers make better choices

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As this new food labeling system will give more clarity about when food products are safe to consume, it should effectively reduce food waste and encourage customers to make the most out of the ingredients they have at home. And considering how high food prices are right now, it’s a very good thing!

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