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‘Best By,’ ‘Sell By,’ ‘Use By’ Labels Don’t Mean Much, Expert Says

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- We’ve all seen the “best by,” “use by,” “enjoy by” and “sell by” on food labels, but what do they really mean?

Dr. Michael Hansen says he knows. “They don’t mean anything,” he said. “That’s the problem.”

Hansen, a senior scientist with Consumer Reports, a magazine that tests and reviews consumer products, says consumers mistakenly believe the dates indicate the product’s expiration. They don’t, he said.

“What most people think is that the food is bad after that date and they shouldn't eat it -- it could be a hazard. So they tend to throw it out,” he said.

But ABC News is learning that, for the most part, the date shown on the container is not the final date at which the food may safely be consumed. Instead, the date shown is the last day the product is at its peak quality, as determined by the manufacturer, according to Hansen and a 2013 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council -- an action group that works to protect health and the environment -- and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic.

The guidelines for label dating vary from state to state. Some states have no guidelines at all. The only product that carries a federally regulated use-by date is infant formula.

In a statement, the Grocery Manufacturers Association acknowledged that “current practices do not adequately serve all consumers.”

In the statement, the association added that there is an effort among many partners to “improve current code dating practices, with the goal of creating a uniform global standard.”

As they are used right now, the dates don’t give a lot of useful information, Hansen said.

“There is complete confusion out there,” he said.

He and others believe the confusion leads to major waste and consumers losing money.

In his book, American Wasteland, author Jonathan Bloom said a family of four discards up to $2,300 worth of food each year.

How much of that waste is due to label confusion isn’t known, but experts say they are sure it’s part of the problem. In many cases, the food is still safe to eat after those dates.

According to the Natural Defense Council, milk may be good for up to one week after the printed date. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, eggs may be good within three to five weeks from your purchase date and certain canned goods, such as soup and green beans -- can be good unopened on the shelf for up to five years.

Asked how a consumer can know when food has gone bad, Hansen said people should “use common sense.”

“The food will either smell or taste bad before it gets to the point that it's going to make you sick. Just use common sense,” he said.

Shelf Life of Common Foods

  • Canned ham (shelf stable), may be stored two to five years. After opening, it may be stored for three to four days in the refrigerator.
  • Rice and dried pasta may be stored for up to two years. After cooking, they may be kept for three to four days in the refrigerator.
  • High-acid canned goods including some juices, fruits and foods with vinegar-based sauces or dressings may be stored for 12 to 18 months. After opening, they may be kept in the refrigerator for five to seven days.
  • Unopened, cooked (processed) poultry may be kept three to four days in the refrigerator after purchase. After opening, it may be stored for three to four days in the refrigerator.
  • Unopened bacon may be kept for up to two weeks after purchase, and for up to seven days in the refrigerator after opening.
  • Unopened, processed, fully cooked ham may be kept in the refrigerator for up to seven days. After opening, slices may be kept for up to three days and whole ham, seven days. 

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Jimmy Carter Celebrates 90th Birthday

Photo by Chris McKay/Getty Images(ATLANTA, Ga.) -- Former President Jimmy Carter, the second-oldest of the living U.S. presidents, turned 90 on Wednesday, blowing out the candles on his cake.

President Obama tweeted out birthday wishes for Carter from the White House Twitter account. The message is signed "-bo," indicating that Obama wrote the tweet himself.


Happy 90th Birthday, President Carter! Michelle and I send our best wishes to you and Rosalynn. -bo pic.twitter.com/Du99I0S524

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) October 1, 2014


Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, also tweeted a birthday message for the former president and 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner.


Happy 90th birthday to President & Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter! pic.twitter.com/oSIrjDKx6k

— Sen. Tammy Baldwin (@SenatorBaldwin) October 1, 2014


The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library posted a photo of the ex-president blowing out the candles on its Facebook page.





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Bomb Threat Forces Evacuation Of Sandy Hook School

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Scoreboard Roundup - 10/1/14

Hemera/Getty Images

 (NEW YORK) -- MLB: National League Wild Card: San Francisco Giants 8 - Pittsburgh Pirates 0 (Giants advance)

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UVA Abduction Suspect Jesse Matthew Accused of Sexual Assault While At College

Galveston County Sheriff's Office(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- The suspect charged with abducting University of Virginia student Hannah Graham was accused of sexual assault while at college, according to a report the school released Wednesday.

Christopher Newport University made public a "criminal incident information" report that stated Jesse Matthew was investigated for an alleged sexual assault on campus that occurred Sept. 7, 2003.

The school said in a statement that it initially declined to release the report, but said, "The success of the criminal investigation is paramount at this time. The university has consulted with the Virginia State Police again today, and we are now releasing the following non-exempt 'criminal incident information.'"

The report said the alleged sexual assault took place on the school's campus and was investigated by university police Capt. Scott Austin. No injuries were reported in connection with the alleged assault, the report said.

It does not indicate whether any criminal charges were filed. Calls to the Newport News police station were not immediately returned, but previous criminal records searches did not turn up any charges of sexual assault. Matthew's attorney, Jim Camblos, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

CNU spokeswoman Lori Jacobs said that federal student record privacy laws "limit the information we can provide."

The report notes that Matthew quit the school's football team five days after the alleged assault and left the school on Oct. 15.

Jacobs would not say specifically if the campus police investigation into the alleged sexual assault led to him leaving the school, but said, "Students don't usually leave in the second month of the semester or leave the football team within a month."

Matthew attended Christopher Newport University after leaving his first college, Liberty University, after only two years.

Matthew is now in police custody after being arrested in connection with the disappearance of Graham. He has not entered a plea.

The news of the Christopher Newport University sexual assault investigation comes as at least two different sheriff's offices in Virginia reported that they were looking into open murder cases to see if Matthew was connected.

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"Angry Birds" Movie Cast Announced

Rovio(NEW YORK) -- The cast of the Angry Birds movie was announced on Wednesday, with a little bit of a Saturday Night Live feel, as former stars Jason Sudeikis, Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader will be in the film, alongside Frozen's Josh Gad and Game of Thrones fan-favorite Peter Dinklage.

The animated 3-D film is scheduled for release in July 2016. The cast also includes comic actors like Danny McBride, Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon, Keegan-Michael Key of Key and Peele, and Arrested Development's Tony Hale.

The film's producer John Cohen called the cast "some of the funniest people out there today."

The cast announcement -- and a sneak peek look at the characters -- was made available to users of the mobile app who fired off one million birds by Wednesday.

Pointing to the millions of users who continue to play the mobile game that the film will be based on, Dwight Caines, president of Theatrical Marketing for Sony Pictures, discussed the way the announcement was made: "We wanted to bring this unlock to the fans first...we know these fans can't wait to see how they're going to bring the Angry Birds' story to life on the big screen of movie theaters."

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Texas Ebola Patient Thomas Duncan Prayed With Family on Phone

Creatas/Thinkstock(DALLAS) --  The patient who became the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States has been identified as a former chauffeur from Liberia who prayed with family members by phone on Wednesday.

The patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, is being treated at an isolation unit at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

Duncan, who is in his mid-30s, spoke on the phone with family members who live near Charlotte, N.C.

“We talked today (with Duncan) and we prayed together with his mother and sister here,” said Joe Weeks, who lives with Duncan's sister Mai.

Weeks said that the family is concerned that Duncan was admitted to the hospital and put in isolation on Sunday, but hasn't received the experimental Ebola drugs.

“I don’t understand why he is not getting the Zmapp,” Weeks said.

The manufacturer of the drug has said they have run out of the experimental medicine.

Duncan's former boss in Monrovia, Liberia, said the patient had been his driver for the last year or two until he abruptly left his job in early September.

"I really don’t know" why he left, Henry Brunson, general manager of Safeway Cargo, told ABC News. "He didn’t resign. He just left the office. He just walked away.”

Brunson didn't know where Duncan went until he saw him on the news as the Ebola patient in Dallas, Texas.

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US Confirms Eight More Airstrikes in Iraq, Syria

maryTR/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD, Iraq) -- U.S. Central Command confirmed eight more airstrikes conducted in Iraq and Syria by U.S. military forces and those of a partner nation.

According to a release, three strikes were conducted in Syria between Tuesday and Wednesday, using fighter jets and remotely piloted aircraft. These strikes took place near the city of Kobani and destroyed an armed vehicle, an artillery piece and a tank operated by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Five separate strikes were conducted in Irq, three of which took place near Mosul, one near the Haditha Dam and one northwest of Baghdad. The strikes in Iraq destroyed a total of five armed vehicles and a building occupied by ISIS militants, while also striking a pair of ISIS fighting positions.

The CENTCOM release notes that the United Kingdom participated in the strikes within Iraq.

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