By: Stephanie Marks, Director Of Quality Assurance and Commercialization
I cannot tell you how many times I am asked the question, “Can I eat this?” It is typically preceded with a description of the food, say a yogurt, and a very vague idea of the storage conditions: it’s been in my lunch bag since yesterday, I forgot to stick it in the fridge, and it says it expired 3 days ago. It is at these moments that I wish I had a mobile quality lab to analyze the food in question. Since that is not an option, I go with the next best tool, our sense of taste and smell. If it looks ok, smells ok, and taste ok, then it should be ok to eat.
In this article, you will find:
These conversations usually lead to questions about best by and use by dates on packaging. According to the FDA, “Between consumers and the food industry, Americans are throwing out about one third of our food – about $161 billion worth each year”. It is believed that the uncertainty about the meaning of the dates listed on food packaging contributes to 20% of this waste. It is easy to understand the confusion when consumers see many different terms used by manufacturers including use by, best by, or expires on. In an effort to bring clarity to the consumer, the FDA is working in conjunction with the food industry to standardize the use of the term “best if used by”. This term will be used on packaged foods where the date is related to optimal food quality and not safety. If stored properly, these products can continue to be consumed even after this date has passed.
According to the FDA, “Between consumers and the food industry, Americans are throwing out about one third of our food – about $161 billion worth each year”
The FDA has also passed new regulations surrounding the nutrition facts panel to empower consumers to make better-informed decisions in the grocery aisles. This is the first major change to the nutrition facts panel in over 20 years, and there are four main differences. The first is the serving size is now larger and presented in bold font. Additionally the FDA updated the serving size of some foods to reflect actual American diets, even if that is not the recommended amount of how much to eat. For example, a large bag of chips in a vending machine used to contain 2-3 servings even though a consumer would typically eat the whole bag. The facts panel will now reflect the bag as one serving and eliminate the need for the consumer to calculate for the whole bag.
The second change is total calories are displayed in a larger, bolder font. This makes it easy to locate and draws the consumer’s attention to this important piece of nutrition information.
The third update was to the recommended daily values. Some nutrients were adjusted to keep up with new nutrition guidelines from the medical community. For example, the recommended daily intake for fiber was increased from 25 to 28 grams, and sodium was decreased from 2,400 to 2,300 milligrams. A good rule of thumb to follow here is 5% DV or less per serving is considered low and 20% DV or more per serving is considered high.
The final change was to include the declaration of added sugars, Vitamin D, and potassium. Consuming too many added sugars can make it difficult for an individual to meet their other daily nutritional goals while staying within their recommended calorie limits. Added sugars can come directly from added sucrose but can also be contributed by syrups, honey, and fruit or vegetable juice concentrates. Vitamin D and potassium were added because many Americans are deficient in these nutrients. A diet high in these nutrients can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and high blood pressure, respectively. Vitamin D and potassium replaced Vitamin C and Vitamin A because deficiencies in these nutrients are rare today.
Food labels can be overwhelming, especially because there are so many choices in the market today. I trust you won’t have to solely rely on your senses to decide if you can eat that — I hope that this helps make sense of some of the changes you’ll be seeing on food packaging and make it easier for you and your family to make informed choices.