If you’ve ever tossed a piece of expired food that looked perfectly fine, or wondered whether that chunk of moldy cheese was supposed to be moldy, you’re not alone. There’s a lot of confusion over food date labels in the United States, which can make it difficult to know when your food has actually gone bad. “Sell by,” “use by,” and “expires on” labels aren’t just vague—their definitions can vary by region or company. And this confusion leads to huge amounts of food waste.
CNBC reports that new legislation was introduced this week in the U.S. Senate and House which would reform and standardize food date labeling. The legislation, which was introduced by Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal and Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, aims to protect consumers while also cutting down substantially on the amount of good food that ends up in the trash. If passed, the bill would establish a national date labeling system, and require companies to distinguish between labels indicating peak quality (when the food is at its freshest) and labels indicating foods are no longer safe to consume.
Food waste is becoming a major problem in the United States. The U.S. annually discards up to 40 percent of its food supply and, as CNBC notes, that percentage has risen sharply over the last four decades. American consumers are currently wasting up to 50 percent more food than they did in the 1970s. Blumenthal and Pingree hope that making food labels clearer will reduce waste by making it easier for consumers to know when food has genuinely gone bad.
“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," Blumenthal explained in a statement. "Items at the grocery store are stamped with a jumble of arbitrary food date labels that are not based on safety or science. 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.”