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Food Industry Trade Groups Want To End Confusing Expiration Dates, Labels

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Confused about when to toss food in your fridge?

Many consumers say "best by," "sell by," and "best before" labels don't help, and now the food industry is looking to change that with a simple fix.

Every grocery shopper wants to buy the freshest food that will stay fresh the longest after you bring it home.

But if your food reaches the "sell by" date does that mean you have to throw it away? And if you're past the "best by" date, does that mean it's no longer edible?

"Sometimes I think it's slightly confusing because it's 'sell by' but you don't know what it's 'used by.' I would like if they would stick to one thing on every product, that would be way easier," shopper Lisa Herrmann said.

Two of the nation's largest grocery store trade groups agree. According to the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, consumers are confronted with more than 10 different date labels on packages.

They've announced a joint effort with retailers to adopt a new industry standard of just two labels "best if used by" for quality and "use by" for products that are highly perishable or have a food safety concern over time.

"There's always this habit of going to the back of the shelf and taking the milk with the date that's the furthest out," said Emily Broad Leib, director of Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic. "I think this will really help consumers know when does that date matter and when does it not matter for safety reasons."

"We have strong support throughout the industry for this streamlined initiative," said Meghan Stasz, senior director of sustainability at the Grocery Manufacturers Association. "It's an example of the food industry really stepping up and stepping forward to address a consumer challenge."

The Natural Resources Defense Council says millions of Americans are throwing out good food because they believe it's not safe to eat after the date on the package.

"We waste about 40 percent of the food we produce," Leib said. "The single most cost effective solution is standardizing and clarifying date labels."

The trade groups say they expect the new labels to be widely adopted by the summer of next year.

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