Food wastage is a growing concern in America. 40% of all food produced in America is wasted, and 90% of American consumers toss food prematurely, wasting perfectly good, safe food. Have you ever shopped for groceries, and been confused by the food expiration date and label? We look to those words to tell when the food we purchase is past its expiration date, but all too often, the labels are confusing or misleading. The terms “sell by,” “use by,” and “expires on” were meant to inform consumers about food safety, but the National Institutes of Health says that the labels are actually confusing them. As a result, U.S. consumers are tossing out uneaten food, food which is then ending up in a landfill. The massive food waste has led to a new bill recently introduced in the U.S. Senate and House.
The proposed legislation would require expiration labels have a consistent and coherent appearance, thereby making it easier consumers to read. H.R. 5298, also known as the Foo Date Labeling Act of 2016 says that confusion about date labels accounts for 20% of consumer waste of safe and edible food, which equals up to $29,000,000,000 of wasted consumer spending annually. Presented by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, the bill introduces a uniform system of language for dates on food label packaging. The standardized language also specifies what size and location the quality date should appear in, as well as how the date should be formatted on the packaging.
“One of the most common arguments people seem to have at home is about whether or not food should be thrown out just because the date on the label has passed. It’s time to settle that argument, end the confusion and stop throwing away perfectly good food,” Pingree said.
The phrase “Best if used by” would be for foods that may be stored on a shelf, while riskier food such as fish, eggs and raw meat – food that has a limited window to be consumed – would use “Expires on.” These changes, once implemented, would save consumers thousands in wasted food, and help keep food waste out of the landfills. The legislation also means that food past the quality date could be donated, because 20 states currently have restrictions against food banks accepting post-date food.
The bill was introduced with an accompanying press conference, where representatives from Campbell Soup Company and Nestle were on hand. All of those in favor of the Food Labeling Act of 2016 believe that it will not only reduce food waste, but also increase donations of food to those who need it. Representatives from the World Wildlife and Feeding America were also on hand at the press conference, speaking about the environmental and personal impact the act may make. Tom Colicchio, Chef, Advocate, and Co-Founder, Food Policy Action says that the act would help unburden businesses from confusing regulations, while also providing education to the consumer.
In the meantime, if confused about the food label dates, consumers can visit the USDA website to see their guidelines of what food to keep and what to throw out.