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By Dana Frasz Words such as convoluted, confusing, inconsistent, ineffective, disorienting, ambiguous and dizzying are not terms you want to hear associated with a system you believe is designed to guarantee food safety.

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That incoherence is costly for shoppers and retailers, bad for the planet and could even be leading to increased health risk.

Each year, an obscene amount of food is wasted in the U. and around the world—and confusing and inconsistent food date labels are making the matter worse. That translates to wasted natural resources, wasted money and wasted nutrition.

According to another NRDC report published last year, 40 percent of all the food produced in the U. Here’s a quick overview: Look at all of the food wasted globally and you’ll see that mismanagement of resources is a major contributor to climate change. Food waste happens for many complex reasons, people’s misinterpretation of date labels on foods being just one of them.

According to a recent FAO report, the global carbon footprint of food produced but not eaten is the equivalent of 3.3 gigatons of CO2 annually—which would make food waste the third-largest contributor to climate change, behind the U. But it might be one of the easiest food waste causes to fix.

Dana Gunders, agriculture specialist at NRDC and one of the authors of , says, “Every entity around the world that has investigated food waste—the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United Nations and NRDC in last year’s report—have all highlighted reducing confusion around expiration dates as one of the key ‘low hanging fruit’ opportunities for reducing food waste.

So we set off to seize that opportunity starting with this report.”While many people place a lot of confidence in food date labels, its an ad-hoc system with no oversight and little consistency.

The labels are not federally regulated and can vary from state to state.

Despite what most people think, the labels don’t communicate whether a product has spoiled.

“use by” and “best before” are just suggestions determined by the manufacturer to indicate when food is at its peak quality.

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