June 1, 2021 | The Korea Times
▲ A consumer examines the expiration date on a milk carton, in this November 2020 file photo. Korea Times file
What would you do if you found out that a few days had passed from the expiration date printed on a milk package you purchased? Some people would probably just dump the milk, thinking it has already gone bad. Experts, however, say unopened milk that has been in the refrigerator would be just fine ― even after a month in most cases. The government is thus planning to overhaul the date labeling system for food packages, as the current one is misleading consumers to waste food, adding to carbon emissions.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety recently revealed plans to overhaul regulations on food labeling. It plans to replace the current "sell-by" dates with "use-by" dates, which are longer. Use-by dates mean there will be no safety problem until that date, if the food product was stored properly.
Sell-by dates usually represent only 60 to 70 percent of the period of time reflected by use-by dates, meaning that products will be okay for some time even after the sell-by date. For milk, for instance, although the sell-by date is set from 9 to 14 days from the date of production, it is actually expected to be fine for up to 50 days from the date of production, when refrigerated at between zero and 5 degrees Celsius, according to experiments by the Korea Consumer Agency.
Many people, however, often misunderstand the label information and dispose of food products too early. In a survey of 2,038 adults by the Korea Health Industry Development Institute, 56.4 percent said that they think they should throw away food after the sell-by date.
The misunderstanding of food labels adds to the food waste problem. According to the Korea Health Industry Development Institute, about 30 percent of food is dumped globally. On average, 14,314 tons of food was dumped every day in Korea in 2019. Additionally, food waste was responsible for 8.85 million tons of gas emissions in 2013, as gas was emitted during decomposition or incineration of the dumped food.
Environmental groups thus have stressed that replacing sell-by dates with use-by dates could be the first step toward decreasing food waste. Most of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries employ use-by dates instead of sell-by dates. The Korean government said it plans to change the label policy next year.