In a positive sign for Americans’ health and waist lines, the amount of trans fatty acids (TFA) in Americans is declining, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control. The study found a 58 percent decrease in participants’ TFA levels between 2000 and 2009. The USDA recommends consuming as little trans fat as possible, as it is an indicator for heart disease, diabetes and other ailments. While small amounts of trans fats are found in meat and dairy products, trans fats are mostly found in processed foods and are not needed to maintain human health.
Labels to the Rescue?
Starting in 2006, the FDA required that food manufacturers list the amount of TFAs on labels. While this has been a positive step and led to many manufacturers reformulating their products in a healthier way, consumers still cannot be certain that they are not consuming any trans fat. Current law states that labels need to indicate if a product has .5 grams or more of trans fat per serving; less than .5 grams and the product can be labeled as having zero trans fat.
Better Labeling to Cut Food Waste?
Giving consumers full and clear information on the foods they eat clearly may have benefits beyond health and wellbeing. The British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has announced an initiative to inform people about proper freezing techniques in a bid to reduce needless food waste. A UK government waste advisory group found that 60 percent of those surveyed believed that food must be frozen on the day it is purchased, which is not the case. As long as the food is frozen by its “use by” date and is kept properly frozen, it should be perfectly safe while drastically reducing waste and expense. Researchers estimate that changing the food labels’ freezing advice could save as much as 800,000 tons (worth $3.1 billion) of usable food every year in the UK.
In the U.S., date labeling on food is generally not required by the federal government, and there are many kinds of labels that could confuse the consumer: including Use By, Sell by, Best If Used By, etc. The USDA’s website states, “If product has a “use-by” date, follow that date. If product has a “sell-by” date or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times on the chart below.” The amount of ‘safe’ time after the sell-by date ranges from 1-2 days for sausage and poultry to 3-5 weeks for eggs.
Image by Mykl Roventine via Flickr, CC license