Consumers often interpret sell by dates as the date food should be consumed by or no longer purchased rather than the store shelf life – the last date the store should display the product for sale. If properly stored, foods can safely be eaten at least a few days past their sell by dates, Could a proposed California bill change our mindset and lead to less food waste?

Except for baby food and infant formula, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends being consumed by the use-by date, no other expiration guidelines are regulated by the U.S. government or individual states. Due to this lack of information, consumers are guided to err on the side of caution and not buy food products with fast approaching sell by dates. These same consumers are also likely to discard food at home well before the products have spoiled.

According to Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, 90 percent of us either always, most of the time, or occasionally throw food out when that sell by date arrives. That can translate to a sizeable amount of food waste in a very short period of time.

Enter David Chiu, an Assembly member representing San Francisco and bill A.B. 2725. His bill proposes to implement long-needed standards in the food industry through the use of two types of labels. The first label, “Best if used by,” would indicate when the quality of a product rather than its safety would be at stake. The second label, “Expires on,” would be used for perishable foods indicating the “consume by” date.

“We want to address the dating-label confusion to make situations that are better for consumers, businesses and the environment — and particularly the millions of people that go hungry every night,” said Chiu.

Remember: Whether the label says sell by, use by, or best before, none actually determines the expiration date. Storing foods consistently at proper temperatures will add longevity to your food products and ensure they can be safely enjoyed past their sell by dates, resulting in less food waste (and a fuller wallet).