Many consumers read an item's sell-by date as an indicator of when the food will spoil, which is an inaccurate assumption. Consumers are concerned about food-borne illnesses and freshness, becoming preoccupied with sourcing and safety.
Manufacturers use sell-by dates to help retailers manage their inventory. It encourages stores to sell a product within a specific time frame, so that the item still has a shelf life once it is purchased.
Expiration dates lead us to waste money and throw out perfectly good food.
Phrases like sell-by, use by, and best before are poorly regulated, misinterpreted and lead to a false confidence in food safety. They are simply producer estimates of how long the food will be at peak quality.
Researchers also blame an incoherent jumble of state and federal regulations and guidelines for unclear expiration date labels. The Food and Drug Administration leaves the determination of such dates up to manufacturers. (Source: Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic, Use-by dates confuse shoppers, by Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times, September 19, 2013)
About 40% of the U.S. food supply is thrown out each year, in part because of consumers who discard products by the date shown, rather than if the food or beverage is actually spoiled - and often, it is not. As Rose Eveleth wrote for Smithsonian.com, "these dates are - essentially - made up. Nobody regulates how long milk or cheese or bread stays good, so companies can essentially print whatever date they want on their products." How long the product stays on supermarket shelves differs not only by state, but also by city.
The most reliable way of discerning if a food or beverage is safe to consume is to examine it carefully and trust your instincts. "Our bodies are well equipped to detect when food is spoiled. The food will taste funny or smell bad, or look slimy. In most cases, the worse thing that can happen if you eat spoiled food is a passing stomach ache. Most widely publicized cases of food-related illness come from food that has been contaminated, not food that is old, said Dana Gunders, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
This industry-wide, collaborative initiative will provide consistency, simplify consumers' lives and reduce food waste in homes across America. The two trade groups hope to have widespread compliance by 2018, but many food manufacturers will begin making the change immediately. (Source: "Food labels to drop sell-by dates in favor of use-by dates," by Jennifer Graham, Deseret News, March 19, 2017)