Stop throwing away food that's past the 'sell by' date – it's probably still safe to eat

Those dates written on food products are confusing.

Federal officials are hoping changes to food labels will get people to stop wasting so much food.

It's estimated that 30 percent of the food supply is wasted by food sellers and consumers – and one of the main reasons for that is the confusing dates written on food products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said this week.

Federal regulations actually don't require that food is dated (except for infant formula), but many food makers still put dates on their food to describe quality. They use a variety of phrases like "sell by" and "use by," which can be misleading to consumers and cause people to throw out food that's past its date – even though the food is still safe to eat, the USDA explains.

That's why the FSIS issued new guidance on how to label products, urging food makers and retailers to date foods with the phrase "best if used by." The agency says it's easier for people to understand that the date means quality of the food – not whether it's safe to eat.

“In an effort to reduce food loss and waste, these changes will give consumers clear and consistent information when it comes to date labeling on the food they buy,” Al Almanza, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, said in a statement. “This new guidance can help consumers save money and curb the amount of wholesome food going in the trash.”

As long as a food isn't showing signs it has spoiled, it's probably still OK to eat (or sell in a store) – even if it's past its "best if used by" date, the USDA says. (For information on how to tell, check out the USDA's guidelines here or download the agency's FoodKeeper app.)

The USDA's guidance on date labels for food is open for people to comment on for the next 60 days. You can comment online here, using the docket number FSIS-2016-0044.

Reducing food waste

An estimated 133 billion pounds of food (valued at about $161 billion) goes uneaten in people's homes, food stores and restaurants in the United States every year, the USDA said.

And changing how food is labeled is just one of the latest efforts by the USDA to help reduce how much food is wasted every year. The agency has worked to change regulations to allow food manufacturers to donate food more easily, as well as create a platform for businesses and organizations to share best practices for reducing, recovering and recycling food.

By 2030, the USDA has a goal of reducing the amount of wasted food in landfills by 50 percent.

Reducing how much food is wasted ever year can really help you save money. It also is better for the environment, with the Environmental Protection Agency saying it reduces methane emissions from landfills, lowers your carbon footprint, and conserves energy and resources, among other things.

For tips on how to reduce food waste in your home, click here.

Next Up

coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2

Minnesota confirms America's 1st case of Brazil P.1 COVID strain

The strain was found in a Twin Cities metro resident who recently traveled to Brazil.


Gov. Walz announces education plan aimed at eliminating disparities

The plan covers seven categories, including closing the racial education gap and improving opportunities in rural Minnesota

Tax forms

Charges: Otsego cleaning business underreported sales

An Otsego woman is accused of owing more than $20,500 in sales tax, penalties and interest.

Screen Shot 2020-04-17 at 2.58.26 PM

Walz gives vaccine providers 3-day, 7-day deadlines to use doses

Those that don't use their allocation will be given less in the future.


Border officers seize more than $550K in counterfeit designer goods

The shipments of fake goods were seized on Jan. 22.

Landfill plastic bags

4 Twin Cities landfills seek to expand capacity

This comes as the area's waste-to-energy facilities are operating at capacity.

Marcus Carr

3 of 10 finalists for NCAA's top point guard award have MN ties

Not a bad way to represent the State of... Basketball?

Justice, court

Minnesota grants unconditional pardon to grandmother facing deportation

Gov. Tim Walz says it's the first full pardon granted by the state in 35 years.

covid-19, vaccine

Minnesota changes vaccine appointment process, here's what to know

Walz also announced plans for a mass vaccination event at Xcel Energy Center.

covid-19, coronavirus

Here is Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Monday, Jan. 25

The latest figures from MDH have been released.

covid-19, vaccine

Minnesota health leaders say state's vaccine progress better than figures suggest

Minnesota is lagging behind national vaccination rates, but MDH leaders say this is because it's holding 2nd doses in reserve.


'Sell by' dates are being scrapped to stop people from wasting so much food

Sell By, Use By, Expires On, Best Before ... it's all too confusing.

'Sell by' dates are being scrapped to stop people from wasting so much food

Sell By, Use By, Expires On, Best Before ... it's all too confusing.

Boxes and wrappers your fast food comes in could be bad for you

Chemicals used to repel grease may leach into your food.

Boxes and wrappers your fast food comes in could be bad for you

Chemicals used to repel grease may leach into your food.