Toss it or eat it? Congress looks to update food-expiration labeling


Congress wants to make it easier for you to understand what foods in your fridge are safe to eat and what you need to throw away.

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Legislation filed last week in both the Senate and House would set up nationwide standards for food expiration-date labeling.

Most foods are labeled with dates saying when the food should “sell by,” or tell you “best if used by,” “best before” and “expires by.” The difference between the dates and when the food is actually unsafe to eat could range from days to years.

The labeling on most of these packages has to do with when the food is at its best quality, not when it expires.

"Items at the grocery store are stamped with a jumble of arbitrary food date labels that are not based on safety or science," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, said in a statement. "This dizzying patchwork confuses consumers, results in food waste, and prevents good food from being donated to those who need it most."

The bills would also distinguish between when the food’s quality is best and when it must be thrown out.

>> What do the 'sell by,' 'use by,' 'best by' labels on food really mean?

The USDA said the average American wastes 36 pounds of food each month, and misunderstood or unclear labeling plays a part in it.

"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 Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine. "It's time to settle that argument, end the confusion and stop throwing away perfectly good food." 

Twenty states have some form of food-expiration labeling laws. They would be overridden if the legislation becomes law.

The lawmakers listed a number of people supporting the bill, including top chefs, advocates and experts.


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