06/02/2011 12:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Do 'Use-By' Dates Lead To Wasted Food?

Americans throw out 14 percent of the food they buy, and generate 34 millions tons of food waste every year. One way to reduce these numbers is by not strictly adhering to "use-by" dates found on food products. Scott Hurd, the director of the Food Risk Modeling and Policy Lab at Iowa State University tells, "Officially I have to say, 'Don't use it after the use-by date,' but that's stupid. I use lots of food after the use-by date."

Even the USDA agrees with Hurd and says that use-by dates refer to best quality rather than safety.

There are many factors that can contribute to why a use-by date may actually be different than the date the product should actually be used by. A big factor is how much the product is handled and processed, and this varies by company.

The website Still Tasty, "your ultimate shelf life guide" allows users to enter thousands of products to see about how long they are good for in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry.

The charts below are USDA suggestions for when products are typically good for.



So, if the dates are just a guideline, how does one know when to eat and when to toss? Well, the powers of sight and scent are good ones - if the product looks okay, and it smells okay, it probably is okay.