Americans Wasting Billions by Tossing Food Mistakenly Believed to Be Spoiled

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Americans Wasting Billions by Tossing Food Mistakenly Believed to Be Spoiled


A new study from and Harris Interactive says that 76 percent of U.S. consumers mistakenly believe certain foods are unsafe to eat after the date printed on the packaging has passed.

“Food scientists agree that most foods, if stored properly, can be safely consumed for days or even weeks past the package date,” said Joe Regenstein, professor of food science at Cornell University and a member of the Board of Advisors. “The dates on food packages are very conservative; if the product was stored properly, it should last well beyond the date on the package.”

The survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive in March for, a Web site that provides shelf-life data on hundreds of food products, plus storage and handling tips that help consumers maximize longevity, safety and freshness of food.

The study asked 2,482 American adults which, if any, of 10 refrigerated food products were considered unsafe to eat past the printed package date. Almost half of the respondents believed eggs were one of these products.

“Sell-by dates anticipate consumption after the printed date. When eggs are stored in the refrigerator, they should last at least three to five weeks after the sell-by date,” said Regenstein.

The dating on milk was even more misunderstood than eggs, with 61 percent of respondents mistakenly believing the printed date is the final date milk can safely be consumed.

“Generally, milk has no off flavor up to five days after the printed date passes. When off flavors can be detected, the off flavors are produced by [harmless] bacteria, so even this milk could be consumed without making one sick,” explained Clair Hicks, professor of food science at the University of Kentucky and also a member of the Board of Advisors.

Based on the study, estimates that if 61 percent of Americans needlessly discard just a quarter-gallon of milk each month, they would be wasting more than $700 million a year. Combining this figure with the other foods in the survey, estimates that billions are wasted by American households every year.

According to a University of Arizona study funded by the USDA, Americans throw away more than 40 percent — about 29 million tons — of all the food the country produces each year. This has a significant environmental and economic impact. is a free Web site with comprehensive shelf life and storage information on hundreds of foods, with data from university, government and other reliable sources. For more information about the survey and additional facts about food shelf life, visit