Mystery Date: Advocating for a Harmonized System of Expiration Date Labeling of Food

Americans throw out roughly 25 percent of the food they bring home. Negative perceptions associated with expiration dates are a leading cause for this waste. However, a complex patchwork of state-run regulatory regimes and varying terminology makes it difficult for consumers to determine whether a food product is unsafe to eat or simply past a peak quality level arbitrarily set by manufacturers. Regulatory trends in Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand suggest a move towards binding expiration date labeling through guidelines for establishing a “best before” or “use-by” date. This Note examines laws currently in place in these five jurisdictions, analyzes global and local legal requirements to be met by any proposed expiration date-labeling regulation, and proposes a model food-labeling regulation that may be adopted by governments globally to facilitate commerce and protect consumer choice.

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