In the spring of 2015, our team traveled to Missoula, Montana to understand the impact of their highly restrictive date-labeling law. This law has been in effect since 1980. It requires all milk to bear a “sell by” date of 12 days from the date of pasteurization and mandates that such milk be removed from shelves once the date arrives. Milk cannot be sold or donated after that date. As a result, countless gallons of milk on grocery shelves gets needlessly discarded, and consumers suffer because milk in Montana typically costs more than neighboring states.
But while this is the most restrictive state law in the country for milk, it is far from the only state law imposing senseless sell-by requirements on manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. Research published by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council has shown that 41 states require date labels on at least certain food products, and 20 of those states restrict or ban the sale or donation of foods after that date.
This patchwork of state laws and regulations is part of a national problem – one that creates customer confusion, limits retailers’ ability to sell or donate wholesome food, and causes unnecessary food waste. In response to this challenge, we are calling for a national solution – a uniform, federal standard for date label language that is easily comprehended by consumers, and differentiates between food quality and food safety.
We believe EXPIRED is central to this effort, and will be a powerful catalyst for change, offering a visual and visceral understanding of the problem, raising awareness about ways to combat it, and engaging key stakeholders in the issue.