What does the "best before" date on food packaging really mean?


Check the date, it's Friday October the 4th... if that cereal you're pouring out of the box, or the milk you're pouring on top of it has a "best before" date before today wait to throw it out. Critics say we waste a lot of food because of those "best before dates" because we just don't get what they really mean.

Why it may make more sense to eat food past their best-before dates than throw it out.

"Ever had milk the day after the date? Scares the hell out of you, doesn't it? The spoon is trembling as it comes out of the bowl. It's after the day, we're taking a big chance (as though the spoon were talking) I smell it, you smell it, what is it supposed to smell like. Smelled like milk to me".

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld knows how to get laughs by exploiting unease. But a new Harvard study published this week suggests these particular fears are responsible for disturbing amounts of food waste each year. Emily Broad Lieb is co-author of The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America.

"Companies putting dates on foods, I think the heyday was the 1970s when people had become very divorced from food production, and they wanted a way to know if their food was fresh,and everyone started requesting dates and companies complied. It's really just a manufacturer estimate of the peak quality. And what they're indicating is that before this date you're going to get this food at its tastiest, it's going to be fresh. If it's a cracker, it's going to be crunchy. But ironically now, people don't remember that they were a freshness label, people think that it's a safety issue. And according to at least one study 90% of people throw food away on the sell by date because they think it's a safety issue".

Emily Broad Lieb, Co-author of Harvard study, 'The Dating Game'

One American entrepreneur is making his mission to change that perception and redirect that wasted food back into the market.

Doug Rauch is the former president of the Trader Joe's grocery chain and CEO of Conscious Capitalism -- an organization that promotes corporate ethics and sustainability. His latest project is called The Daily Table. Its a supermarket and restaurant that will sell food that's past its Best Before date at a steep discount. The store is slated to open early next year in Boston Massachusetts. Doug Rauch was in Boston.

Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer set out on a food waste mission for 6 months, eating only discarded food. They're Vancouver filmmakers, making a documentary about their project called Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story.

The Current's producer Elizabeth Hoath visited them in their home in Vancouver.

Sylvain Charlebois is a professor of food distribution and policy at the University of Guelph's College of Management and Economics. He feels we've become a society that is afraid of pathogens in our food making us rejecting foods that might not be perfect but is promoted by the food industry in the labelling. Sylvain Charlebois was in Guelph, Ontario.

Do you eat food that's past its Best before date? Share your thoughts on today's story.

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This segment was produced by The Current's Josh Bloch, Elizabeth Hoath and Sujata Berry.

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