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New Bill Aims to Clarify Confusing Food Date Labels

  • On December 7, U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Dan Newhouse (R-Washington), and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), reintroduced the bipartisan Food Date Labeling Act in both the House and Senate (H.R. 6167S.3324). The bill is designed to end consumer confusion around food date labeling and increase the consumption and donation of safe, edible food. According to its sponsors, the Act will reduce food waste by standardizing date labels on food products.

  • Government estimates indicate that Americans waste 40% of the overall food supply on an annual basis, much of it caused by confusing and conflicting information around food date labels. Meanwhile, as per Rep. Pingree’s press release, more than 38 million Americans are food insecure and the climate crisis is worsening, in part, due to food waste. “It is estimated that if all food waste represented an individual country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally.” Federal law does not regulate the use of date labels on food products, with the exception of infant formula. In the absence of federal regulation, 41 states have developed their own date labeling requirements that use varying and inconsistent language, such as “sell by,” “use by,” “freshest on,” and “expires by.”

  • The Food Date Labeling Act will establish date labeling language that clearly differentiates between quality and safety: “best if used by” communicates that the qualify of the food product may begin to deteriorate after the date, and “use by” communicates the end of the estimated period of shelf life, after which the product should not be consumed. Under the legislation, food manufacturers will decide which food products carry a quality or discard date. The legislation will also allow food to be sold or donated after its labeling quality date.

  • H.R 6167 was assigned to the House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as the Agriculture Committee; S. 3324 was sent to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Provisions to standardize food date labeling were also included in Rep. Pingree’s Agriculture Resilience Act, which was reintroduced in April 2021. Additionally, in September, Reps. Pingree and Newhouse, along with Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) reintroduced the School Food Recovery Act, which would create a new program at the USDA to support schools working on food waste reduction projects.

© 2022 Keller and Heckman LLPNational Law Review, Volume XI, Number 349
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About this Author

Keller and Heckman offers global food and drug services to its clients. Our comprehensive and extensive food and drug practice is one of the largest in the world. We promote, protect, and defend products made by the spectrum of industries regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Commission and Member States authorities in the European Union (EU) and similar authorities throughout the world. The products we help get to market include foods, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, veterinary products, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. In addition...

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