As many as nine out of 10 Americans throw away their food before they need to. Most of us do it out of fear.
On this week’s episode of “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver called out the food industry for its waste problem. A large amount of that food waste stems from people throwing away food after it’s passed its “sell by” date.
As it turns out, that handy “sell by” or “use by” date you’ll find on the edge of your cereal box is pretty much made up.
That’s right. The dates are picked — basically at random — by manufacturers.
“If I were a food manufacturer, I would make those dates a tight as possible to convince people to buy a new one of my products,” says Oliver.
As Oliver points out, the US government only requires one food product to have an expiration date. It’s baby formula. In other words, none of those other sell-by dates are in any way official.
Of course, foods like milk, yogurt, and meat definitely do go bad after a certain amount of time in your fridge. For this reason, some states do require expiration dates. That doesn’t mean that the minute it turns July 24, 2014 you can no longer eat that ground beef you’ve been neglecting to eat — but by all means, toss that milk carton when it begins to smell more like buttermilk than 2%.
But for most of the food we eat, our made-up expiration labels aren’t necessary. And, as Oliver points out, they’re contributing to a far bigger problem: Waste.
There’s not much incentive to use an item after its arbitrary expiration date — grocery stores won’t sell it, and they also won’t give it away, because they’re worried they’ll be sued for donating unsafe food. That contributes to up to $165 billion worth of food waste a year, or enough food to fill 730 football stadiums!
“Imagine walking out of a grocery store with four bags of groceries, dropping one in the parking lot and just not bothering to pick it up,” said Dana Gunders, a staff scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s essentially what we’re doing in our homes today.”
With 49.1 million people in the US who aren’t able to get enough nutritious food, that’s a big problem, Oliver said.
So what can we do?
Oliver suggests giving tax breaks to small businesses and farmers so they’re encouraged to donate the food they can’t sell. The USDA and EPA already have some of these tax incentives in place, but most of them don’t apply to major food companies, which would get major tax breaks if they were to donate their “expired” products.