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really no legal definition around them.” What does that printed number on your milk carton tell you? Yet 90 percent of Americans take the dates as law, a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School found — helping to explain how it’s possible that the U. And the terms you see on your perishables, like “sell by” and “use before,” have never been formally defined. Instances where states have attempted to impose regulations, meanwhile, are remarkably inconsistent, and usually left up to the producer’s discretion.A recent study done by Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resource’s Defense Council exposes the truth behind expiration dates and offers suggestions to food manufacturers on how to better set these dates.The report finds that the confusion created by this range of poorly regulated and inconsistent labels leads to results that undermine the intent of the labeling, including: “We need a standardized, commonsense date labeling system that actually provides useful information to consumers, rather than the unreliable, inconsistent and piecemeal system we have today,” said Emily Broad Leib, lead author of the report and director of Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic.“This comprehensive review provides a blueprint calling on the most influential date label enforcers – food industry actors and policymakers – to create and foster a better system that serves our health, pocketbooks and the environment.” The report recommends that food producers and retailers begin to adopt the following changes to date labels voluntarily but government steps, including legislation by Congress and more oversight by FDA and USDA, should be considered as well: The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, a division of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, is an experiential teaching program of Harvard Law School that links law students with opportunities to serve clients and communities grappling with various food law and policy issues.The Harvard Law/NRDC study, “The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America” (PDF) is a first-of-its-kind legal analysis of federal and state laws related to date labels across all 50 states and presents recommendations for a new system for food date labeling.For the vast majority of food products, manufacturers are free to determine date shelf life according to their own methods.If yogurt in the 43-year-old Bethesda writer’s refrigerator is even a day past the date stamped on top, Trey “acts like it’s poison” and throws it away. But a new report, co-authored by the National Resources Defense Council and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, argues that revising the convoluted system of date labels would be a simple and straightforward way to slash food waste.Food labels appear mundane enough, but the tug of war playing out behind them about what’s on them is anything but.

By 1975, a nationwide survey of shoppers showed 95% of respondents considered date labels to be the most useful consumer service for addressing freshness.

But they are not easily distinguishable from one another and neither is designed to indicate food's safety.

"Sell by" dates are a tool for stock control, suggesting when the grocery store should no longer sell products in order to ensure the products still have shelf life after consumers purchase them.

While not all of this is due to confusion, a casual survey of grocery store workers found that even employees themselves do not distinguish between different kinds of dates; * Mass Amounts of Wasted Food - The labeling system is one factor leading to an estimated 160 billion pounds of food trashed in the U. every year, making food waste the single largest contributor of solid waste in the nation's landfills.

Two main categories of labeling exist for manufacturers: those intended to communicate among businesses and those for consumers.

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