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Sell By? Use By? Best By? New Legislation Attempts to Standardize Expiration Dates

Two elected officials hope to keep Americans safer and prevent them from wasting food

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Many American consumers don't really know the difference between "sell by," "use by," and "best by" dates, or how closely they should follow those guidelines. Now, two members of the United States Congress are planning to clear up the confusion. Legislation that will establish a national standard for date labels is expected to be introduced in the House and Senate on Wednesday, reports Consumerist.

In April 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture began encouraging consumers to eat certain foods long past their expiration dates. The government agency launched an app that was meant to provide information on the actual shelf life of specific products and help cut back on this country's food waste epidemic. The USDA says an average American throws out 36 pounds of perfectly good food per month.

"Many products may have a 'sell by' date of, say, April 1, but they could be good in your pantry for another 12 or 18 months," Chris Bernstein of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service said last year. "And by throwing those out, what you're doing, is you're contributing to food waste in the United States."

Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Representative Chellie Pingree from Maine are behind the bills. In addition to creating a national standard, Consumerist says their proposed legislation will distinguish between a date that indicates a product's quality and one that indicates the food may no longer be safe to eat.

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