Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Are food expiration dates required by law?

Do you trust expiration dates when deciding whether to throw food away?

Image courtesy consumerist

You may not want to. There is no comprehensive nationwide requirement that food be labeled with expiration dates. A recent study from Harvard's Food Law and Policy Clinic shows us a brief history of attempts to regulate food expiration date labels. Despite efforts in the 1970s to pass a law standardizing food dating--to the tune of ten failed bills in Congress from 1973-1975--today only infant formula expiration dates are regulated by federal law.

Some states have labeling requirements, and some require grocery stores to stop selling food after the food's expiration date. Generally, expiration dates are mere manufacturer recommendations for peak quality and have little bearing on food safety. The Harvard study includes staggering statistics about the food waste generated by this piecemeal regulation as well as policy recommendations to improve the clarity and accuracy of food expiration dates.

If you're feeling brave and want to eat foods based on food safety rather than peak quality, check out this elegant infographic from Thrillist. It provides estimated time frames for how long certain foods are safe to eat after the expiration date has passed. As always, use caution! And a reminder that this blog provides neither legal nor culinary advice.

This post is dedicated to my law school roommate and a jar of capers belonging to her that I mistakenly threw away our 3L year. May they rest in peace. I publicly apologize for my role in their untimely demise.

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