End “Sell-By” Dates to Stop Unnecessary Food Waste

Target: Dr. Stephen Ostroff, M.D., Commissioner of Food and Drugs

Goal: End to “sell-by” and “best-if-used-by” dates on food in order to end unnecessary food waste.

Every year, American consumers are throwing out an estimated $165 billion worth of food, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. This is due largely in part to the confusing dates stamped on our food products, which are almost entirely unregulated by law. Foods that can develop a toxic quantity of bacteria with time should have an expiration date clearly marked for the time when these products become inedible. On the other hand, foods that go rancid long before the bacteria reach a harmful quantity should not be marked with sell by dates, since the rancid oils prevent people from eating them.

“Sell-by” dates are mainly used by stores to regulate stock and ensure product freshness for customers. These dates could easily be encoded in barcodes, and checked via scanner while stores are surveying inventory, a process that would not dissuade consumers from purchasing perfectly edible foods near or on the printed sell-by dates, which would also reduce the quantity of store food waste. In American Wasteland, Jonathan Bloom estimated that each supermarket discards $2,300 worth of out-of-date food daily. Considering the fact that most of these foods are still edible, and these dates are not legally regulated, this is an inexcusable quantity of waste.

The only product expiration date regulated by the FDA is baby formula, since nutritional quality is lost with time. As for sell-by and expiration dates on other products, most are created with quality, not safety, in mind. Professor Jeanne Goldberg of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University says, “It’s a very inexact science since those dates include a wide margin of safety.”  Milk, for example, will begin to spoil about five days after the sell- by date, which is not an indicator of milk becoming toxic. Eggs can last up to five weeks after the sell-by date without going bad. Other products like potato chips and mayonnaise become rancid, thus distasteful to humans, long before the quantity of bacteria in the products make them toxic. In essence, these sell-by dates are not an honest indicator of food quality, they are just a means of turning people off consumable foods.

By signing the petition below you will help urge the Commissioner of Food and Drugs to ban the use of “sell-by” and “best-if-used-by” labeling in order to end unnecessary food waste due to consumer confusion.


Dear Dr. Ostroff,

Almost all packaged foods sold in grocery stores come with a date stamped on them, whether an expiration date, or a sell-by date. While expiration dates are essential to prevent food poisoning, sell-by dates and best-if-used-by dates are often confused as expiration dates, leading consumers to dispose of perfectly edible food long before necessary.

People dispose of 40 percent of food in the United States, which means almost half of our edible food ends up rotting in landfills where it decomposes to create greenhouse gasses laced with toxic metals. The environment cannot withstand this quantity of unwarranted food waste due to the confusion of labeling. Food production companies should eliminate sell-by dates, and only place expiration dates on foods that have the potential to become toxic with age.

I am urging you to put an end to the use of “sell-by” and “best-if-used-by” dates on food in order to end unnecessary food waste. Please take actions to enforce policies that discourage companies and consumers to throw out perfectly edible food.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

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One Comment

  1. thats why u should donate foods to hungry charity instead

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