Your Food’s “Expiration” Date May Be Lying To You

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Have you thrown out and replaced unopened or unused food solely because the date label (the “sell by,” “best by,” “use by,” “expires on,” “display until,” etc.) listed on the product had passed?  Did you know that these dates, in many cases, reflect nothing about the safety or shelf life of a product?

Indeed, as noted in a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (on page 19, emphasis added):

Because consumers cannot understand what factors led to the selection and setting of label dates, often they mistakenly assume that these dates are tied to food safety, whereas in reality their true function is to convey information about freshness and quality grounded in the preferences of consumers themselves and the particular brand protection practices of manufacturers.  This misunderstanding also creates the opportunity for an unscrupulous manufacturer to maximize profits at the expense of consumers’ economic interests.  The fact that consumers and stores throw away products unnecessarily can lead to increased profits for manufacturers if consumers are purchasing more products and doing so more often.  According to at least one supply chain expert, some manufacturers may artificially shorten stated shelf lives for marketing reasons.

With the exception of infant formula, Federal law generally does not regulate the way companies calculate such date labels or communicate them to consumers, and state regulations vary tremendously (where there is any regulation at all).  As a result, every day, the dates printed on food labels fool consumers into thinking that they need to discard and replace unopened or unused food products when, in fact, they do not.  Indeed, Reuters reported a study showing that millions of tons of food are wasted each year as a result of these arbitrary and confusing date labels.

Publicly-filed lawsuits have alleged that drug manufacturers used dates on their products to induce consumers to unnecessarily purchase replacements, even though the drugs were still effective.  Our team is actively investigating similar potential class actions against food manufacturers.  If you or someone you know disposed of and replaced a product purely because it was past the date on the packaging, contact us to discuss your legal options.