We probably don’t have to point out again how much food we waste in this country, but it’s a staggering enough number that we should—it’s tens of millions of tons. And a great deal of that waste is attributable to people throwing away food that is still perfectly acceptable to eat, but has been emblazoned with the scarlet letters of “sell-by” or “best by” dates—neither of which have much, if anything, to do with whether you can still eat a particular item. Food can be good for weeks or sometimes months beyond the printed date, and the worst part is that there has been little consistency to the dates—they are only required in 20 states.
So to give some uniformity to a system that has resulted in wasted food and wasted money, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representative Chellie Pingree proposed legislation in the senate and the house that would establish federal standards for food labeling. If the bill passes, foods will only be able to carry two labels: “best if used by,” which will be used on shelf-stable items to indicate that they are past their peak freshness, and “expires on,” which will be used on items like milk or eggs to indicate that they might be dangerous to consume.
The hope is that a uniform system of dates will stop people from, glancing at a milk carton’s “best by” date and throwing it away when it could still be safe to drink.
With congress as dysfunctional as it is, it’s hard to tell at this point if the bill will pass, but the notion that food can be eaten beyond its “sell-by” date is not a controversial idea. In fact it was the basis of an entire grocery store by the former CEO of Trader Joe’s.
While it certainly won’t eliminate all the food waste in this country, if people can start eating just a little more of what they buy we can all sip away at the problem one glass of two percent at a time.