Nightly News   |  September 18, 2013

Confusing dates on food labels

When faced with various “sell by,” “use by” or “best before” dates on food packaging, it’s difficult to figure out when to throw food out, and when it can stick around a bit longer. A new report helps decipher some of the labeling language that shoppers encounter, and the study authors advocate for federal regulation of food labels. NBC’s Stephanie Gosk reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we are back and as we mentioned we have a consumer news story that should be helpful. at least it is intended that way. in just about every american household. it's about what we buy, consume and throw away believing it's no longer good. it's about the sometimes vast difference between the sell by date on a product and the use by date . when something really does go bad and how it all ties into staggering waste in this country, often because of oh consumer misunderstanding. our report tonight from nbc's stephanie gox. -- gosk.

>> reporter: americans are wasting food -- a lot of it. 160 billion pounds a year, about 40% of the food supply . that means an average family of four spends more than $ 1500 a year on food they never eat. a report released today blames, in large part, a confusing and unregulated labeling system. food is still good after the sell by date and often still safe well after the use by date . for instance, these egg s have a use by date of october 16. typically egg es are good a few weeks beyond that date. would anyone consider eating them then? you open the refrigerator in november. they are still there. do you make an only oh leomelet?

>> no.

>> probably not.

>> you can eat something past the sell by date.

>> reporter: how many days past?

>> it depends on the pruk. sometimes they will say use or freeze by. that's useful information to deliver to consumers.

>> reporter: enjoy by september 21 . what does that mean?

>> they're telling you this product will be at its peak quality by this date. you are not going to get sick on the 22nd. typically this product will rot and get slimy like lettuce does before it would make you sick.

>> reporter: this is october 31. it's november 1. can i drink this?

>> depending on how you handle the product. if you oh left it in a hot car for 24 hours i may not want to drink that.

>> reporter: it's about refrigeration.

>> versus just a date.

>> reporter: some want government food labels regulated. they say if it looks good and smells good, don't toss it. stephanie gosk, nbc news, new york.