The lie of “expired” food and the disastrous truth of America’s food waste problem

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Everything you assume about date labels is probably wrong

There are two vital facts to know about date labels on foods in the US: They’re not standardized, and they have almost nothing to do with food safety.

Date labels first started appearing in the decades following World War II, as American consumers increasingly moved away from shopping at small grocery stores and farms and toward supermarkets, with their rows of packaged and curated options. At first, manufacturers printed a date code on cans and packages for the benefit of the grocer, so they’d have a guideline for when to rotate their stock. The label was not designed for consumers. But since shoppers wanted to buy the freshest food on the shelf, savvy folks started publishing booklets that gave a guide for deciphering the codes.

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