Making Sense of the 'Sell By' and 'Best By' Labels on Food

Consumers may be throwing away millions of dollars in food every year.
2:53 | 12/26/14

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Transcript for Making Sense of the 'Sell By' and 'Best By' Labels on Food
Time for "Gma investigates" and those food labels sell by dates or best by dates. What do they mean? You may be surprised to learn you could be throwing away thousands of dollars each year in food that's fine to eat. ABC's Mara schiavocampo is on the story. Reporter: Best Buy. Use by and enjoy by, sell by. We've all seen the labels with dates but what do they actually mean? They don't mean anything. Reporter: Dr. Michael Hanson, a senior scientist with "Consumer reports" says consumers mistakenly believe these are really expiration dates. What most people think it means is that the food is bad after that date and they shouldn't eat it, it could be hazardous so thepdz to throw it out. Reporter: "Gma investigates" learning for the most part this is not the last date the food is safe to eat. Instead, the manufacturer determines it's the last day the product is at its peak quality. The guidelines for label dating vary from state to state. Some states have no guidelines at all. This is required to be labeled. Reporter: The only product with a federally regulated date infant formula. Even the food industry recognizes that current practices do not adequately serve all consumers and tells us there's an effort among many partners to improve current code dating practices with the goal of creating a uniform global standard. Use by, sell by and nothing but just a date. This is all the same brand. This is all the same brand. This is not only the same brand but also the same 2%. Reporter: What does this show us? This shows there's complete confusion out there. Reporter: Organic valley tells us the wording on its carton is chose by individual third party packing plants airport the country. These lead to major waste and major money out of your pocket. One author says a family of four throws out up to $2300 of food each year. How much of that is due to label confusion isn't known but experts say they're sure it's part of the problem. In many cases the food is still safe to eat after those dates. Milk can be good for up to one week after the printed date. Eggs within three to five weeks from your purchase date and certain canned goods like soup and greened beans can be good on the shelf for up to five years unopened. So as a consumer what are you supposed to do? How do you know when your food has gone bad? You just use common sense. The food will smell or taste bad before it gets to the point that it's going to make you sick. Reporter: Commonsense advice that never expires. For "Good morning America," Mara schiavocampo, ABC news, new York.

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