Ever wondered what federal or scientifically approved protocols food companies follow while printing a “best before,” “sell by” or “use by” date on their products?
The answer to that is simple: none.
Expiration labels on food items are more of a formality, considering there are no federal standards in place to set these dates, except for on baby formula. The omnipresent time limits are, at best, the manufacturer’s estimation for when the product would most likely go bad. It means the food you toss in trash for surpassing its “best by” date might actually be perfectly safe for consumption.
A joint study by Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and the National Consumers League, found over a third of Americans are under impression the government regulates the expiration dates. In addition, at least 84 percent of those surveyed admitted to throwing away the food that was close or past the date mentioned on the label.
To remove this confusion, two Democratic members of Congress have introduced a legislation demanding standardized food date labeling.
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree unveiled the Food Date Labeling Act on Wednesday. The proposal aims to differentiate between the food items carrying a label indicating its peak condition and those that specify when they might become unsafe to eat.
“Before taking a swig of milk, many Americans glance quickly at the date label and toss it away, without realizing that it still may be perfectly safe to consume,” explained Blumenthal. “Items at the grocery store are stamped with a jumble of arbitrary food date labels that that are not based on safety or science. This dizzying patchwork confuses consumers, results in food waste and prevents good food from being donated to those who need it most. By establishing a uniform national date labeling system, this commonsense legislation will provide consumers with clarity that will help them save money on their grocery bills and prevent perfectly safe food from going to waste.”
For a country that throws away over 40 percent of its produce every year, the sheer importance of this particular proposal is undeniable.
“One of the most common arguments people seem to have at home is about whether or not food should be thrown out just because the date on the label has passed,” said Pingree. “It's time to settle that argument, end the confusion and stop throwing away perfectly good food.”
The manufacturers would have to follow the recommendations by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Food Date Labeling Working Group while labeling their products, according to the press statement.