Each year individuals in North America and Europe throw away an average of 95 to 115 kilograms (210 to 250 pounds) of food they think is either spoiled or rotten. Much of this food is tossed in the garbage because it’s past the expiration or “sell by” date. But what if those dates are inaccurate — or worse, misleading?

In the spring of 2015, students with the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, along with a video team from Racing Horse Productions, traveled to Missoula, Montana — home of one of the most restrictive “sell by” laws for milk in the country.

The law, which has been in effect since 1980, “requires all milk to bear a ‘sell by’ label that is dated twelve days from the date of pasteurization and mandates that such milk be removed from shelves once the date arrives,” according to the FLPC team. As the video explains, seemingly good milk is being thrown out on a regular basis.

Milk labeling laws aren’t limited to Montana. Forty-one states have their own laws on the books, creating a patchwork of regulations and confusion among consumers — leading to oftentimes unnecessary food waste.

As we previously wrote in Ensia, “Just being aware of the problem and its consequences doesn’t solve the problem by itself, though.” View Ensia homepage