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Confusion over dates, according to a survey by the Food Marketing Institute, leads nine out of 10 Americans to needlessly throw away food.

For the average family of four, this could translate to several hundred dollars’ worth of food being thrown away every year – and, in all likelihood, more money spent purchasing the same food again – simply because of a misleading date stamp. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal agency responsible for food safety, would be overseeing food expiration dates. FDA, in its own words, leaves date labels on food, except for infant formula, to “the discretion of the manufacturer.” The U. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees meat, poultry, and some egg products, also says date labels are voluntary.

This means that every consumer should have a basic understanding of food product dating and safety."First, consumers need to understand that overall, when manufacturers set their shelf life for products, they are being fairly conservative in the dating," said Martin Bucknavage, Food Safety Expert at the Department of Food Science at Penn State University.

However, Bucknavage suggested a few guidelines on years of testing."Low acid products such as corn, green beans, or tuna can last a good while after the shelf life of that container.

Some products even use what is called a Julian Date, which is perfectly understandable as long as you're a mathematician. In other words, almost all food dating relates to the quality of the product, not its safety."The quality characteristics of foods (taste, aroma and appearance -- as distinct from safety characteristics) often depend in great part on good storage conditions: temperature and humidity control in the retail store and warehouse," Herndon said.