The USDA released the FoodKeeper app earlier this month, and I found a lot of the advice confusing. Knowing when food is unsafe and needs to be thrown away is already hard, due in large part to arbitrary sell-by, best-by and use-by dates. All this confusion leads to unnecessary food waste. In this week’s USDA Week in Review video, the government agency addressed the confusion caused by arbitrary dates.

Forward to the 1:25 mark on the video to see USDA FSIS’ Chris Bernstein talk about sell-by dates.

In the video, the USDA representative says that food in your pantry can be good for 12 or 18 months after its sell-by date. He’s talking about non-perishable, shelf-stable foods like dried pasta, beans, canned foods, cereals and more. This advice isn't the same for fresh meats, dairy, produce and other foods that spoil quickly.

Bernstein goes on to say that if you buy a box of fresh pasta it’s only good for a limited amount of time. Notice the pasta that the video cuts to at the 1:55 mark when Bernstein mentions “fresh pasta.” It’s a box of dry pasta, the kind that Bernstein says can be good for another 12 or 18 months. Ahhhhh…. more confusion from the USDA.

A while back I informally polled my Facebook friends and asked them what they thought about the “use-by” date. A surprising amount of them said they throw the food away no matter what it is because the food is no good after that date.

Now I have something concrete to show them.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.