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Government says it's okay to eat some food 12 or 18 months after its sell-by date

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The USDA wants you to think to twice before tossing 'expired' food. (iStock)

According to the USDA, the average American tosses out 36 pounds of food a month. That’s over 20 percent of available food that goes uneaten in the country. 

Food date stamps, such as “use by” and “sell by” dates, are not federally regulated and don't always indicate food's freshness. While some of food should be thrown out, like moldy fruit and curdled milk, a lot of it is probably just fine.  

"Many products may have a sell-by date of say April 1 but they could be good in your pantry for another 12 or 18 months."

Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture is telling consumers to think twice before tossing.

A new app called “Foodkeeper” launched earlier this month is part of a joint effort between the USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce food waste. The project, U.S. Food Waste Challenge, focuses on education,  recycling, connecting  potential food donors to those in need, as well as encouraging suppliers to appropriately label perishable food products like meat, poultry, and egg products to cut down on unnecessary waste.

Foodkeeper provides users with “valuable storage advice about more than 400 food and beverage items, including various types of baby food, dairy products and eggs, meat, poultry, produce, seafood, and more.” App users can get cooking tips, add recent purchases to receive notifications when they are due to expire and even provides information on safe food handling practices to cut down on food borne illnesses.

"Many products may have a sell-by date of say April 1 but they could be good in your pantry for another 12 or 18 months. And by throwing those out, what you're doing, is you're contributing to food waste in the United States,” Chris Bernstein of the USDA explains in a new video. Eighteen months sounds like a long time to keep something past its expiration—but the government says for some foods, it’s perfectly fine. 

The app has information on more than 400 items, so 18 months doesn’t apply to all of them. For example, the app recommends using or throwing away baby food within just a few days.  Examples of food that may last 12 or 18 months would be rice or sugar. 

Foodkeeper is currently available for Apple and Android devices.