USDA Wants You to Eat Expired Food

The USDA is urging Americans to eat more expired food, up to 18 months after expiration for some foods:

USDA provided a video in which one official explains, “Many products may have a sell-by date of say April 1 but they could be good in your pantry for another 12 or 18 months. And by throwing those out, what you’re doing, is you’re contributing to food waste in the United States.” As an example, the video showed boxes of dried pasta.

Why April 1? Is this an April Fool’s joke? Apparently not. You have to ask yourself why they even have expiration dates if they don’t hardly approximate when food actually expires?

Who determines the dates on when food expires? Manufacturers. The USDA doesn’t set expiration dates, though they have released guidelines. This means that food providers set the dates. And, as you would expect, they set them conservatively. There are a number of reasons for this. First, it reduces the food provider’s liability to set expiration dates early. If a person eats expired food and gets sick, that’s obviously on the consumer rather than the producer.

A second, perhaps more important, reason for setting expiration dates early would be that the food producer makes more money if people don’t eat all the food they buy. But this has resulted in a huge amount of food waste:

America has been long been the poster child for the “throw-away society” and researchers have known for years about the volumes of food Americans toss into the trash. Only recently, though, has that been quantified as a percentage of what is produced. A new study from the University of Arizona in Tucson indicates that forty to fifty percent of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten.

Those are terrible numbers. But why does it matter? It matters because you’re paying for it. Whether you eat it or not, the price of producing, processing, delivering, storing, and selling food gets distributed to every consumer. Each of us can do our part. Eat the food you buy, support local farmers, and maybe pay more attention to your nose than the expiration dates on your food.