Congress Introduces Bill To Improve The Accuracy Of Expiration Dates

If U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree and Dan Newhouse, along with Senator Richard Blumenthal, get their way, it will be easier for U.S. consumers to understand expiration dates on food products as a result of bipartisan legislation introduced this week. A press release from Pingree's office explains that the Food Date Labeling Act will reduce confusion about when foods are safe to eat, hopefully resulting in a major reduction in food waste.

Pingree said, "Our current food labeling practices are outdated, confusing, and completely arbitrary, resulting in around 90 percent of Americans prematurely throwing out perfectly safe food." Newhouse pointed out that a staggering 40% of food in the U.S. is wasted, due in part to consumer confusion about the expiration dates that appear on food.

Food waste is a big problem globally, particularly given the data on the number of people worldwide who are experiencing food insecurity — an estimated 828 million for 2023. The Food Date Labeling Act intends to ensure food that is safe to eat isn't thrown out but rather consumed by purchasers or donated to those in need.

Confusing food labels contribute to food waste

Though the FDA acknowledges that food waste is a huge problem, the administration's focus has mainly been educative rather than forcing the industry to simplify the labels so it's easier for consumers to understand precisely when food is no longer fit for consumption. Currently, only infant formula has federally regulated, standardized expiration labeling, but the Food Date Labeling Act aims to change that. At present, states bear the responsibility for regulating expiration dates, which has resulted in what Pingree's press release calls "a patchwork of confounding terms" like "Sell By," "Use By," "Freshest On," and "Expires On."

The Bipartisan Food Recovery Caucus' bill would simplify food labeling and allow manufacturers to choose whether to label foods "Best If Used By" if they wish to indicate that the quality of food may begin to diminish after a certain date or "Use By" to indicate when a food should no longer be consumed.

The Food Date Labeling Act has a number of supporters, according to Pingree, and among them is Andrea Collins, with the Natural Resources Defense Council, who said, "Nearly ten percent of all food waste in the U.S. is caused by confusion about the date label. The bipartisan Food Date Labeling Act would standardize date labels, educate Americans about their meaning, affirm the donation of safe food and, ultimately, make a big dent in America's food waste problem."