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'Best By,' 'Use By' And 'Sell By' Dates May Get A Lot Less Confusing

The USDA is recommending one standard food label that customers can understand.
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'Best By,' 'Use By' And 'Sell By' Dates May Get A Lot Less Confusing

We've all tossed food in the trash because it's passed its labeled date, except it might not have been spoiled at all.

Shoppers see "best by," "use by" or "sell by" dates on food products, and they definitely don't mean the same thing. 

That's why the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated its food labeling guidelines. The department is pushing egg, meat and dairy manufacturers to use just one food label: "best if used by." 

A "use by" date only says how long the product will be at peak quality — not when it will go bad. And "sell by" dates aren't even for consumers. They tell stores how long to display the product for inventory purposes.

Research has shown the "best if used by" label is the clearest way to tell consumers when a product is past its peak freshness.  

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With the current confusing food labels, the average family throws away $1,500 worth of food each year that isn't really expired. 

Ultimately, it's up to each manufacturer whether to adopt the "best if used by" label, but even that doesn't need to be a rigid expiration date.

No matter what label and date you see, experts say to trust your nose. If a product is spoiled, the odor should give it away.