Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

September 23, 2013

“Sell-by” dates

By Dick Platt
Corsicana Daily Sun

— OK, can anybody explain to me the difference between the “use-by,” “sell-by,” and “best-before” dates we find on food containers? I thought not! There really is no rhyme-nor-reason standard nor a requirement in this country for these arbitrary dates. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has released a report that calls for labeling standardization that will reduce food waste and lead to better recycling efficiency.

It is hard to believe but, based on figures accumulated in 2001, we waste about $900 million dollars worth of food each year. More than 90 percent of the consumers interviewed said they had tossed out food based solely on the “use-by,” “sell-by,” and “best before” dates on the packaging. Because consumers believed these dates were measures of food safety, the NRDC estimates that 160 billion pounds of food was trashed. Of course, these numbers would be much higher in 2013 and the NRDC states, “...making food waste the single largest contributor of solid waste in the nation’s landfills.”

The NRDC’s Dana Gunder has stated that these dates have nothing to do with food safety. As a general rule, “sell-by” are used for retailers’ stocking purposes and “use-by” and “best-by” are dates when manufacturers “guesstimate” the product is at peak quality. Often there is no lab testing involved and these dates are based on consumer taste tests and whatever dates their competitors are using. Because there is no federal regulation of these “use-sell-best” standards, they vary widely from state to state. In many cases they are voluntary and the manufacturers decide what they will be.

As an example, he goes on to say that you can buy a food product in New Jersey with a “best-by” date on it and, the same product in New York will have no information on it because New York doesn’t require such dates. He recently was checking labels in a “popular national food retailer” and found a half gallon of milk with a “sell-by” date sitting next to quarts of the same brand with no dates. Next to these was another brand of milk with “best-by” dates. Go figure!

This brings me to a question about milk that has been bugging me for some time. Why is the shelf life of organic milk so much longer than regular milk? It is kind of spooky that we have a half gallon of organic milk in our refrigerator that The Little Woman (she doesn’t care for that name) bought over a week ago and it has a “sell-by” date of Oct. 5, 2013. What’s even spookier is the fact that our health-conscious daughter-in-law has us using organic milk.

Ted Labuzza is a professor of food science and engineering at the University of Minnesota and has studied how food rots for over 50 years and has written 17 books about food. After all those years of study, the professor has come up with the following very profound statement: “If the food looks or smells bad, certainly throw it away, but just because it reaches a certain date on the package is not a guarantee that the food is unsafe.”

Of course, I don’t have any of Professor Ted’s credentials, but my food studies have provided me with one very hard and fast rule: red meat is good for you — green meat is bad for you.

So there was a world-famous dietitian who was addressing a very large senior-citizen audience and, as he concluded his presentation on healthy eating, he became very emphatic and passionate and it went something like this:

“The exotic matter and rich foods we put into our stomachs these days would have been enough to have killed most of us sitting here 20 years ago! Red meat is awful stuff and causes cancer! Those soft drinks erode our stomach linings! Chinese food is loaded with MSG! Vegetables can be disastrous! And no one knows what the long-term harmful effects we get which are caused by the germs in our drinking water!

However, there is one food that is the most dangerous of all and almost all of us have eaten it. Can anyone here tell me what food it is that causes the most grief, suffering, and discomfort for years after eating it?”

A 75-year-old man in the back row stood up and yelled out, “Wedding cake!”

Well, after that snide little joke about the wonderful institution of marriage, I will sign off with a loving happy birthday wish to TLW who hit the “Big 7-0” today. Honey, you’re the greatest!

See ya...


Dick Platt is a Daily Sun columnist. His column appears on Tuesdays. Want to “soundoff” on this column? Email: