DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) -- The FDA says 20 percent of food waste in American homes is due to not understanding what "sell by" or "use by" means.
"I usually always throw my food out; I never keep it past the expiration date," said Jennifer Waters, consumer.
"I think that expiration date is on there for a reason and that's from the food company and they want to warn you it could pose some type of risk," said Gantt Pierce, consumer.
They are not alone - the FDA says Americans are throwing out $161 Billion worth of food a year, but the FDA says that sell by date just is for optimal quality, not safety.
"That's what food banks depend on, that product that the sell-by date is passed but it's still in that expiration date period," said David Hanks, Executive Director, Wiregrass Area Food Bank.
David Hanks at the Wiregrass Area Food Bank says most of their food is past the sale date, but they always check to make sure it's not spoiled,
"This one's dented you want to stay away from that," said Hanks.
Dented -rusted or swelling - all bad, but if it's past the sell by date that doesn't always mean throw it away.
"Generally what will happen with the product after sale by date it will still be good 8 months 5 months depending on the product but what happens with the product is it will lose a little taste," said Hanks.
These cans will usually last one year past shelf life.
"When in doubt throw it out,” says Hanks.
And to save waste - don't forget about the freezer - the food bank uses frozen meat - frozen on the last day of the sale by date - and as long as that meat stays frozen it can last for months. Hanks says even the food that does go bad - isn’t wasted. It is given to local hog farmers.