Americans waste 14% of all the food we buy, and rote adherence to "use-by" dates is part of the problem, explains an Iowa food scientist:

But, it turns out, in going strictly by use-by dates — the great drivers of waste — we throw out a lot of perfectly good food. Use-by dates aren't entirely useless, one expert says, but they're not as useful as common sense.

"Officially I have to say, 'Don't use it after the use-by date,' but that's stupid. I use lots of food after the use-by date," said Scott Hurd, director of the Food Risk Modeling and Policy Lab at Iowa State University. [MSNBC]

Even the FDA acknowledges that its ratings are guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. The parameters are based on experimental spoilage studies. If your food is handled less, or stored differently, it may spoil more slowly than the FDA predicts; or vice versa, so don't let the expiry date lull you into a false sense of security.

Hurd says that our sense of smell and common sense are more reliable guides to freshness than a label on a package. If it smells okay, tastes okay, and doesn't seem unusually slimy or sticky, it's probably okay to eat.

[Photo credit: Squacco, Creative Commons.]