Most Americans are needlessly tossing out packaged food—not because it’s gone bad, but because they take the date stamped on it far too literally. That’s according to a recent study published in the journal Waste Management, which surveyed more than 1,000 people about the phrases and dates on food packages.
Many Americans wrongly believed that food product dates—often prefaced by “best by” or “sell by”—are federally regulated and indicate the point after which the food is no longer safe to eat. (Neither is true: labeling decisions are made voluntarily by food companies and are meant to help consumers determine how fresh a food is, according to the USDA.) As a result, 84% of people throw out food when it’s close to the package date at least occasionally, the researchers found.