Rationale of the Week | Should I toss food if it’s past the date?

For last week’s practice question, we quizzed test takers on if you should toss food if it is past the expiration date. Only 35% of respondents chose the best answer, which indicates that there was some confusion. We want to clarify and share this important information, so you can pass it on to people living with diabetes and your colleagues, plus prepare for exam success!

Before we start though, if you don’t want any spoilers and haven’t tried the question yet, you can answer it below: Answer Question

Question:

A person comes into the clinic for a diabetes education appointment. They are on a budget and ask you if they should throw away food if it is older than the date on the package.

What is the most accurate response?

Answer Choices:

  1. Manufacturers stamp foods with a date to comply with federal safety standards.
  2. Before throwing away the food, look at it and smell or taste it to see if it has gone bad.
  3. The date on food packaging indicates when it is no longer safe to consume. 
  4. Food packaging dates are federally regulated and help keep consumers safe..

Getting to the Best Answer

Answer 1 is incorrect. 23.38% chose this answer, “Manufacturer’s stamp foods with a date to comply with federal safety standards.” This is a juicy answer, but it is not the best answer. Except for infant formula, dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety and are not required by Federal law.  Since the federal government doesn’t require the dates, the “sell by” or “enjoy by” dates are determined mostly by the manufacturers. Manufacturers put the date on the package to encourage consumers to eat the food product when it tastes best, not when the food will go “bad”. They want to protect their brand and encourage the consumer to purchase their product again.

Answer 2 is correct. 35.74% of you chose this answer, “Before throwing away the food, look at it and smell or taste it to see if it has gone bad.” Research shows that one in three bags of groceries purchased will end up in the trash due to dates stamped on food items. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), foods are still safe for consumption after these expiration dates pass, but make sure to look out for an off odor, flavor, or texture that mean the food has spoiled and should not be eaten.

The FDA says the dates on food aren’t serving a safety role. A food and law expert, Broad Leib says, “however, you do want to pay attention to dates on food in the prepared food section, including deli meat, raw fish, unpasteurized milk and cheese.” But for most foods, like a box of mushrooms or a bottle of ketchup, Broad Leib suggests we take a pause to look at the food. Smell and taste it to determine if it seems okay to eat. We can tell if something went bad.

Answer 3 is incorrect. 16.16% of respondents chose this answer, “The date on food packaging indicates when it is no longer safe to consume. ” This is a juicy answer, but it is not the best answer. Except for infant formula, dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety and are not required by Federal law.  Since the federal government doesn’t require the dates, the “sell by” or “enjoy by” dates are determined mostly by the manufacturers. Manufacturers put the date on the package to encourage consumers to eat the food product when it tastes best, not when the food will go “bad”. They want to protect their brand and encourage the consumer to purchase their product again.

Finally, Answer 4 is incorrect. 24.71% chose this answer, “Food packaging dates are federally regulated and help keep consumers safe.” This is a juicy answer, but it is not the best answer. Except for infant formula, dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety and are not required by Federal law.  Since the federal government doesn’t require the dates, the “sell by” or “enjoy by” dates are determined mostly by the manufacturers. Manufacturers put the date on the package to encourage consumers to eat the food product when it tastes best, not when the food will go “bad”. They want to protect their brand and encourage the consumer to purchase their product again.


Read more in our blog
Food Dates Can Lead to Unnecessary Waste

Have you inspected a food product that you bought last week and wondered if you should toss it because it expired yesterday? If you said yes, you are not alone.

About 40% of food waste happens in the kitchen, when consumers throw away foods that have passed the expiration date.

Are we throwing away perfectly good food based on the date stamped on the package?

Dates are confusing and they are often not associated with safety concerns. Learn why food and legal experts are asking consumers to reconsider their thinking.


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