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It’s not you. Date labels on food make no sense.

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Food labels don’t mean what you think they mean.

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When people clean out their fridge, they look at whatever date is on the label and throw it in the trash if it’s past that date. But the chances are that you’re throwing out tons of perfectly good food because date labels on food are often really confusing.

Food labels can mean many different things and often don’t give you any indication of whether the food is safe to eat or not. Many people assume that they’re federally regulated, but baby formula is the only product required to have consistent date labels. For everything else it’s up to the states to decide.

This creates a confusing state-by-state patchwork of labels with everything from “use by” to “freshest before” to “sell by” to “packaged on.”

And all this confusion causes us to waste tons of food every year. All the uneaten food waste costs Americans over $200 billion each year, and two thirds of that comes from households.

If we came up with a unified, easy to understand date label system we could save money, food, and help the environment, all just by changing how we put date labels on the things we eat.

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