Please raise your hand if you fully understand expiration date labels on foods in California grocery stores.
That’s what we think.
Misleading and unclear expiration dates cause Americans to throw away massive amounts of food that is still safe to eat.
The US Department of Agriculture estimates that more than a third of the US food supply is wasted, costing the average family of four an estimated $1,300 each year. A 2013 study by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that 25% of fresh water in the United States goes into the production of food that is not eaten, and 21% of the space in our landfills is littered with Food Waste.
It’s time to stop this.
In California, Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, is proposing to require clear date labeling for foods.
No more “sell by” stamps, only given to stores for restocking purposes. Instead of 50 different types of date labels used to suggest to consumers when food should be thrown away, Assembly Bill 660 would require food manufacturers by January 1, 2025 to use one of two types of standardized labels:
• “Use by” or “use by or freeze by” would indicate the safety of a product.
• “Best if used by” or “best if used or frozen by” would indicate the quality or freshness of a product.
Food manufacturers oppose the bill. That’s not surprising. As consumers throw away food unnecessarily, they spend more at the grocery store.
Food manufacturers say that if individual states pass different food labeling laws, it would make it harder and more expensive to sell products across the country. We would be more sympathetic if Congress had passed any of the national date labeling laws it has considered since the 1970s. Or if they had voluntarily made labeling easier to understand.
In contrast, neither the US Department of Agriculture nor the Food and Drug Administration have the authority to regulate expiration standards. The only federal regulations related to date labels on food products are for infant formula.
Just last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress reintroduced the Food Date Labeling Act, the latest effort to set national standards. But the prospects of the bill passing and being sent to President Biden for his signature are slim, at best.
Meanwhile, passage of AB 660 would give California consumers a clearer idea of the quality and safety of the food they buy. It could also serve as a model for other states and pressure Congress to act.
It’s time for California to lead the way and pass a food labeling bill that would help consumers and the environment.
—The Editorial Board, Bay Area News Group