Fixing the Problem of Expiration Dates and Food Waste

Approximately 40 percent of food purchases in the United States are thrown away before it is necessary. In the United States, nine out of ten people throw out food early due to confusion over sell-by-dates which, for a family of four, can add up to hundreds of dollars worth of food per year. Bump Mark, a biobased food label made using gelatin, was designed by Solveiga Pakstaite to more adequately indicate the decay of packaged food. As the food begins to decay, the gelatin also decays, revealing a layer of bumps indicating the food is expired. However, if the label is smooth, then the food is still safe to eat.

The label was originally designed to assist people who are visually impaired and are unable to read printed labels. However, the designer realized the product could also help people properly track the condition of food.

I don’t think that current [expiration] dates are effective at all… Safe food is being thrown away unnecessarily.” –Pakstaite

Many don’t understand sell-by-dates included on packages and believe they are an indicator of expired food, rather than an indicator for retailers to sell a product in the store. “Best by,” “Enjoy by,” and “Best before” are also used to suggest when the food is considered freshest, but do not indicate when the food has gone off. Furthermore, manufacturers tend to set those dates based on the worst case scenario for the food because they do not know how the products will be treated once the food leaves the production site. Dana Gunders, scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council and co-author of The Dating Game explains,

If you’re a manufacturer, you don’t know how consumers are going to handle your product… So manufacturers often are setting those dates based on the worst-case scenario. So they’re thinking about the mom who goes shopping and leaves her groceries in the car while she’s watching her kid’s soccer game. They’ll consider those types of mishandling while setting dates.”

Unlike traditional labels, the Bump Mark automatically adjusts to the environment the food is left in, indicating mishandling both before the food reaches the retailer and after it leaves.

While the Bump Mark is more expensive that printed labels, Pakstaite believes the investment will help many families save on food costs and is cheaper than RFID and electronic-based alternatives other companies are considering. As she continues to work towards finalizing her product, its clear there is a need for more understanding among consumers about the food we purchase.

 

Read more here- “Landfills are Overflowing with Food. Here’s a Gelatin Label that Could Limit the Waste,” (Adele Peters, The Washington Post)

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Olivia is a graduate of Villanova University where she studied Economics and History, minoring in Gender and Women's Studies. She also has experience working with federal legislatures on health care policy, women's issues, and Internet safety.

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