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Ask Oz and Roizen: Food Date Labels and Biomarkers for Pain

Ask Oz and Roizen: Food Date Labels and Biomarkers for Pain

Here’s what the docs have to say on changing food date labels and biomarkers for pain.

Q: What’s with the new food labels that are supposed to tell you when it’s still safe to eat a food and when to throw it out? — Jessie F., Franklin, TN

A:  Everyone agrees—the old way of doing food date labels was misleading and confusing. Few people were sure of the difference between “best before” and “sell by” labels. And many folks mistakenly thought food date labels were federally regulated—they’re not at all.

A survey published in Waste Management looked at US consumers’ attitudes and behaviors concerning food date labels, such as “best if used by,” and found about 37 percent of you always toss food when it’s close to its listed expiration date—even if the food is still good or the food date label isn’t signaling any risk. Researchers say that’s one reason that 31 percent of the US food supply is wasted by retail establishments and consumers.

Changes are happening
It’s important that the food date info be used wisely—for both safety and conservation. After all, the CDC estimates there are roughly 9.4 million incidences of foodborne illness each year in the US. Hopefully, voluntary guidelines designed to clarify when food is good and when it has to go will protect you from illness and let you enjoy food without worry.

  • “Best if used by” now indicates when the quality may decline, but can still be consumed.
  • “Use by” labels are restricted to foods that can be unsafe to eat after the printed date.

The researchers hope these labels will change habits. For instance, soft cheeses are particularly at risk of contamination with listeria, which can proliferate in refrigerated conditions—yet consumers said they rarely discarded them by the labeled date. On the other hand, unopened canned goods are very low risk, but almost half of folks surveyed said they threw them out, thinking the date label meant they were dangerous to eat. This change in food labeling will help you know when to throw and when to stow away your food.

Q: I heard researchers discovered biomarkers for pain, and that may let them develop a blood test that will tell docs how much pain medicine to prescribe. I know it’s a response to the opioid epidemic, but I don’t think I like the approach of someone telling me how much pain I have. Is that how things are going to turn out? — Justin B., Sarasota, FL

A: First of all, there is exciting research from the Indiana University School of Medicine that has identified a combination of several biomarkers associated with pain, but we are a long way from a situation in which your individual expression of pain is overruled or ignored. You should think of this research as a way to refine pain management to benefit everyone, and as yet another weapon in the fight against over-prescription of opioids.

Many of the folks participating in the research are from Indianapolis VA Medical Center, so the scientists are trying to get a handle on how, for example, to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who cannot describe the full extent of their pain.

Researchers imagine that down the road there might be a situation where, if you turn up in the emergency department and cannot communicate with the doctors, they can give you a blood test to help determine what pain medication you need (and not give you too much or too little). As they say in the paper, these biomarkers may be “important tools in disorders where subjective self-report of an individual and/or clinical impression of a healthcare professional are not always reliable.”

If you’ve ever been asked to rate your pain on a scale from 1 to 10, you know how iffy that evaluation can be—and how often you overstate it, fearing it will get worse soon, or play it down trying to be tough and brave. Sometimes it’s good to have a check on the occasionally-flawed human factor.

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