NEW YORK (CBS NEWS) -- From milk to meats, salad to cereal, almost everything at the grocery store has dates printed on it.
An advocacy group says those dates are confusing and many consumers are tossing out good food and money because of them.
If it's in the grocery store, it probably has a date on it. Some say, "Use by," others are marked, "Sell by" and some just have a date.
Peter Lehner from the National Resources Defense Council says the dates are not expiration dates.
"You don't need to throw it out if it's past the date on the label," Lehner said.
The NRDC estimates nine out of 10 Americans are confused by the dates. A family of four throws about $2,000 worth of still-edible food away every year.
"The dates are up to the manufacturers, there's no federal standards for anything in this store except for infant formula," Lehner said.
Many foods, he says, if stored properly, can last long after the labels say:
- Milk: At least a week past the printed date
- Eggs: Can still be good three to five weeks after you buy them
- Many Canned Products: last for up to five years
The Grocery Manufacturers Association says dates indicate freshness, but admits changes are needed.
"We are working to improve current code dating practices, with the goal of creating a uniform global standard that will make it easier to interpret date labels," the organization said in a statement.
Until then, Lehner says consumers should use common sense.
"You can open it and smell it. You can take a look at it, and for most things you'll be able to tell whether or not it's still good," Lehner said.