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The culture and politics of food.

Forget Food Expiration Dates

Pay no mind to food labels that say “best by” or “enjoy by” when cleaning out your fridge: those cautionary dates are intended for food manufacturers, advising them on when the food will be the tastiest. Timelines for when groceries are at their prime and when they become inedible can be weeks off, so hold off on tossing those purchases.

About 40 percent of all food purchased goes to waste—about 20 pounds a person each month. Bump Mark, a new food label intended to prevent food waste, interacts with food quality. The label has four layers, from top to bottom: plastic film, a layer of gelatin, a plastic bump sheet, and another piece of plastic film. As the food within the package starts to go bad, so does the label’s gelatin. Once the food has expired, the label will be reduced to its bumpy layer. If the layer is still smooth to the touch, consider it a greenlight to dig in.

“Because gelatin is a food, the same things affect it as a food inside a package,” Solveiga Pakstaite, a finalist for the James Dyson Award, told the Washington Post. “It has an interesting property that when it expires, it turns back into a liquid. I couldn’t just use any natural substance—it had to be one that changes state.”

Pakstaite is looking for a commercial partner to back Bump Mark, which is likely to cost more than the standard sticker. It might cost more than a sticker, but when Americans alone account for $165 billion in food waste, it seems worth the expense.

Image by Kathleen Franklin, licensed under Creative Commons.