This newspaper is safe to read after the date printed; the news in it just won’t be as timely. Similarly, food is often safe to eat after the date on the package, just less tasty – and it may not even be that. Yet many consumers discard “expired” food without checking whether it’s still good. New food-labeling standards effective in mid-2018 should help.

The voluntary guidelines adopted by two industry groups call for explaining the date on a package with one of two phrases: “use by” if the company thinks the food will go bad, “best if used by” if it’s merely concerned about flavor.

If that helps consumers understand what the dates mean, they’ll be less likely to throw away wholesome food because of its date. Most expiration dates reflect producers’ predictions about subjective matters such as taste, yet consumers often treat them as if they are safety warnings.

Federal regulations do not require dates on food, aside from baby formula; they do govern how manufacturers who choose to date-stamp certain other foods do so. State laws may require dates in some cases.

The new standardization may be, in part, an effort to avoid new federal laws. It shows that such laws may not be necessary: Food producers applied date labels without mandates, to ensure quality, and now they’re standardizing them without having to, to reduce waste.

Regardless of labeling, the Department of Agriculture urges consumers to check the quality of perishable foods before using or discarding them: Foods that have passed the printed date may still be good.