“You ever have milk the day after The Day?” Jerry Seinfeld asked in his standup special I’m Telling You for the Last Time. “Scares the hell out of you, doesn’t it?”
Various other products have adopted a voluntary label, particularly for certain types of meat, poultry, and egg products which can make consumers especially ill if consumed too late.
Regardless, the most frequently-used phrase on such packaging is “best if used by,” which often leads to consumer confusion. After that listed date, is the product still safe to consume but just no longer at its “best” time period, or is it actually unsafe?
What the legislation does
The Food Date Labeling Act would create two new national standards, both voluntary, for food package labeling: splitting the single “best if used by” into two labels marked “best by” and “use by.”
The former would indicate when a product was of optimal quality, while the latter would clarify the point after which a food is actually unsafe.
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the legislation would not only make things clearer for consumers, but could even help relationships and marriages.
“A very common problem that people experience, when they open their refrigerator or go to the cupboard, they look at the label and say: ‘Ugh, gosh, should I eat this?’ It says best if used by April 15. Alright, it’s like three days late. Is it okay? It’s a carrot, it’ll be fine,” Rep. Pingree said in an April 18 social media video, opening up a mini-fridge and eating said carrot.
“Perfectly good, very good. If you were at all worried, you could rinse them, cook them, it’d still be fine. Carrots last for a long time.”
“Garlic hummus,” Rep. Pingree continued, turning to another item in the mini-fridge. “This one says 3/30. Eh, hard to tell with hummus. Maybe? It’s already been opened. If it hadn’t been opened, maybe I would’ve eaten it, but looks a little sketchy. Perhaps I will compost this, instead of eat it.”
“Now, this is an issue people confront all the time, because they’re like: ‘What does this label mean? Is it okay? Not okay?’ Sometimes I like to call this a domestic harmony issue, because there’s always someone in the house who says: ‘Oh my gosh, April 15, I’ve got to throw it out.’ And the other person says: ‘Are you kidding? We can just cook these up for dinner, they’ll be great.’”
What opponents say
Opponents counter the legislation would increase prices at the grocery store.
When similar legislation was considered in the 1970s, supermarket chains voiced opposition, with the logic that “dating would add to the price of the food, since shoppers would pick over the packages on the supermarket shelves, selecting only the newest.” The economic theory was this practice would in turn increase the frequency with which older yet still edible food was discarded, so stores would have to increase prices to compensate.
Odds of passage
A prior 2019 House version attracted five bipartisan cosponsors: four Democrats and one Republican. A subsequent 2021 version attracted a larger 11 bipartisan cosponsors: 10 Democrats and one Republican. Neither version received a committee vote.
The current House version has attracted a still-larger 29 bipartisan cosponsors: 27 Democrats and two Republicans, Reps. Mike Lawler (R-NY17)and Dan Newhouse (R-WA4). It awaits a potential vote in either the House Agriculture or Energy and Commerce Committee.
By contrast, the Senate’s prior 2019 and 2021 versions both attracted zero cosponsors. Neither version received a committee vote. The current Senate version has not yet attracted any cosponsors, either. The reason for the two chambers’ cosponsorship discrepancy is unclear.
It awaits a potential vote in the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee.