California Bill Could Put a Big Dent in Food Waste

Proposed legislation would regulate the ‘sell-by’ labels included on packaging.
(Photo: Ryan McVay/Getty Images)
Mar 23, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Vermont’s law requiring GMO labels, which has led to a growing number of companies adopting labeling standards, has been a striking example of how local regulation can led to nationwide change. Usually, however, states that look more like Texas or California—large population, large economy—set trends for national standards and policies. Soon, California may provide a case study for food-waste regulation: A new bill proposed by Assemblymember David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat, would set new standards for “sell-by” labels on food packaging.

The bill, A.B. 2725, would both mandate and set standards for two types of labels: “Best if used by,” which would denote when quality of a product, not its safety, would deteriorate, and an “Expires on” label for perishable foods. Currently, “sell-by” language on packaging does not have to conform to any standards, except in the case of infant formula—and even then, the date stamped on tins denotes when the nutrient in the product will begin to decline.

Many consumers, however, conflate there terms and dates with food-safety concerns and will often throw out products that are still good to eat.

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“This addresses the everyday experience that we all have, when we look at our refrigerator at dozens of products and have to decide if we should throw out products that may still be good but have different expiration labels,” Chiu told SF Gate.

Dana Gunders, a food-waste expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which supports the bill, has been pushing for similar reforms for years. As she told TakePart in 2013, “No one is pretending that you can’t eat that product after the [expiration] date” has passed.

According to a “road map” recently published by a coalition of nonprofit groups that laid out how the U.S. could reduce food waste by 20 percent over 10 years, confusion over labels leads consumers to throw out nearly $30 billion worth of food annually. Labeling reform, which is recommended both by the road map and in the bill Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree introduced in the House back in December, is considered one of the cheapest and most effective ways to reduce waste. All told, 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. ends up going to waste every year.

Chiu’s bill gives the California Department of Public Health the authority to establish the list of foods that will have “Expires on” labels, which will include those that could present a food-safety issue if consumed after the marked date. It’s expected to be a short list.