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Most Americans misunderstand package dates, says study

Article-Most Americans misunderstand package dates, says study

Most Americans misunderstand package dates, says study
Milk jug

Milk jugToday, and Harris Interactive released a new study revealing that 76 percent of U.S. consumers mistakenly believe certain foods are unsafe to eat after the date printed on the packaging has passed.

In fact, food scientists agree that most foods, if stored properly, can be safely consumed for days or even weeks past the package date.

“The dates on food packages are very conservative…if the product was stored properly it should last well beyond the date on the package,” said Joe Regenstein, Ph.D, professor of food science at Cornell University and member of the Board of Advisors.

The survey, whose results have just been released today, was conducted online by Harris Interactive in March for, a website 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 Harris Interactive 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 3-5 weeks after the ‘sell-by’ date,” explained 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,” said Clair Hicks, Ph.D, professor of food science at the University of Kentucky and member of the Board of Advisors.

Based on the Harris Interactive study, estimates that if 61 percent of Americans needlessly discard just a quarter gallon of milk each month, they would be wasting over $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 — approximately 29 million tons — of all the food we produce each year. This has a significant environmental and economic impact.

For more detailed information about the survey results, methodology including weighting variables, and additional facts about food shelf life, visit


Photo by Palila

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