HOUSTON -

A new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard University shows more than 90 percent of Americans may be prematurely tossing food because they're misinterpreting "sell by" and "use by" dates on products.

"Sell by" is a date meant for businesses, not consumers. It's a suggestion about when the store should no longer sell items to ensure there is still shelf life left in them once you get them home. Even "best by" or "use by" dates that are for consumers have no bearing on if the food inside is actually safe.

"I got cans that are like two years old," said Louis Nichols. "I had soup the other day and it was fine."

Many of us may turn our noses up at the thought of eating something from a can with a best by date from years earlier, but it's true the USDA says canned goods are good for up to two years after the manufacturing date or the best by date on the can.

The "best by" date is a better indicator of quality, not safety. Soup in a can will taste best when eaten by a certain date.

"Anything in a can will eventually start to taste like metal, that metal taste," said Nichols.

This new study says those "sell by" dates are "confusing" and "misleading." They want food producers and retailers to create a more uniform, easy to understand system that would lead to less wasted food in our country.

The only product where a date mark is federally required is infant formula. All others are at the complete discretion of the manufacturer.