HARRISBURG – Legislation that passed the state Senate would change the expiration date on milk and allow milk to remain on the shelf longer.
Senate Bill 1330, which passed that chamber unanimously last week, would replace the expiration date on milk with a “best by” date instead of the “sell by” date which now appears on cartons and milk jugs.
The legislation would also allow milk processors to request a “best by” date that is longer than the 17-day limit now in place.
The legislation’s future isn’t clear. The House Agriculture Committee hasn’t scheduled a vote on the bill and the state House only has three more sessions days scheduled for the rest of the year. If the House doesn't pass the legislation this year, it would need to be re-introduced and pass the Senate again.
State Rep. Mark Keller, R-Perry County, said that he’s not aware of any opposition to the legislation and he supports it.
The bill hasn’t been scheduled for a vote because legislative staff are reviewing it, he said.
While there are only four days officially scheduled for House session, there may be time to pass the bill, he said.
Lawmakers are almost certainly going to be called into session for additional voting days in November, Keller said. “We still have to pass the budget,” Keller said. Due to the pandemic economic crisis, lawmakers only passed a five-month budget plan, meaning they still have to figure out the budget for the rest of the year.
Only Montana has a stricter expiration date for milk than Pennsylvania.
“This 17-day sell-by rule is not common among other states and is shorter than the industry standard for milk date labeling, which is between 21-24 days past pasteurization,” according to the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic.
“Other states don’t have that 17-day milk code requirement, which is an arbitrary deadline and really doesn’t reflect the freshness of the milk,” said state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, the prime sponsor of SB 1330..“Milk doesn’t necessarily spoil once you get to day 18. But consider consumers in the grocery store – they buy the carton with the latest date. This legislation will help make Pennsylvania milk the fresher choice.”
The change was recommended by the Dairy Future Commission, which was created by a 2019 law and released its findings in August.
The Dairy Future Commission’s report noted that the change is needed to help traditional milk products compete with newer alternatives.
“Fresh milk produced instate is at a competitive disadvantage on a store shelf in comparison to extended shelf life milks and plant-based beverages traveling further distances to market and printed with longer codes,” the Dairy Future Commission noted in its report .”Milk code is not considered a food safety issue by FDA or state regulatory authorities.”
Shannon Powers, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, said that the state Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding was a member of the Dairy Future Commission and supported the recommendation to change the expiration date on milk.
Food safety and environmental groups have also asserted that expiration dates on milk products contributed to unnecessary food waste because people discard milk that is still usable.
An Ohio State study published in 2018 found that when asked to sniff different bottles of milk, consumers were more likely to say they would discard the milk if it had an expiration date than those who were making their decisions based on the odor of the milk alone.
The Ohio state researchers said they focused on milk because it is one of the most wasted food products, representing about 12% of food waste in the United States.