Foodbank CEO Says Expiration, 'Use By' Dates Are Misleading

Jan 30, 2018

Don't throw away your expired canned goods. That's the message River Bend Foodbank is trying to share.

You can donate that food instead because it tuns out, food doesn't actually go bad after the date printed on the can.

"What that really is, is a freshness date — the manufacturer wants you to eat it while it's at its best condition — I promise you the next day, it's not poison," says Mike Miller, CEO of River Bend Foodbank.

Food doesn't actually go bad after the date printed on the package.
Credit Lacy Scarmana / WVIK

Instead of calling it an expiration date, Miller is trying to rebrand it as the 'donate by' date. He encourages people to go through their cupboards, check for food they're not going to eat, and instead of throwing it away, donate it to the foodbank.

"I will occasionally get complaints of people saying, 'you shouldn't be promoting this idea of expired food,'" Miller says. "We really need people to understand there's nothing wrong with that food and we're glad to be able to get it and get that to people who need it."

From its 60,000 square foot warehouse in southwest Davenport, River Bend Foodbank supplies 300 food pantries across 23 counties. Miller says each can or package is checked before it's given to a person in need.

The website gives guidelines for how long foods can be eaten past the date printed on the package. For example, unopened mayonnaise is still good three to four months past the date, canned tomatoes are good for an additional 18 months, and a can of green beans can last up to five years past the printed date.

"Food moves through here so quickly to get to people in need that it isn't coming anywhere close to when it actually goes bad," Miller says. 

Ten years after the Great Recession, Miller says the level of hunger — or what he calls food insecurity — in the region has gone down. However, it's still higher than it was before the financial crisis. 

"This country throws away one third of the food it produces," he says. " That would be enough food to feed everybody if we just committed to never throwing it away."

Miller says each year, 124,000 people are missing 22 million meals in the River Bend Foodbank distribution area. Half of the people who receive food from it are seniors over the age of 65 or children under 18.

River Bend Foodbank has been steadily increasing the number of meals distributed for the past several years. Last year, it gave out nearly 13 million meals, and its goal is to reach 22 million meals by 2025.