Fix California’s misleading food expiration labels

Raise your hand if you fully understand the food expiration date labels in California’s grocery stores.

That’s what we thought.

Misleading and unclear expiration dates cause Americans to throw out massive quantities of food still safe to eat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than a third of the U.S. food supply is wasted, costing the average family of four an estimated $1,300 every 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 toward producing food that isn’t eaten, and 21% of the space in our landfills is packed with food waste.

It’s time to stop this.

In California, Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, proposes to mandate clear date labeling for food.

No more “sell by” stamps, which are only provided to stores for restocking purposes. Rather than 50 different kinds of date labeling used to suggest to consumers when food should be tossed out,  Assembly Bill 660 would require food manufacturers by Jan. 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 hardly surprising. As consumers unnecessarily throw away food, they spend more at the grocery store.

Food manufacturers say that if individual states pass different food labeling laws, it would make it more difficult — and costlier — to sell products nationwide. We would have more sympathy if Congress had passed any of the national date-labeling legislation it has considered since the 1970s. Or if they had voluntarily made labeling easier to understand.

Instead, neither the U.S. 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 congressional lawmakers reintroduced the Food Date Labeling Act, the latest effort to set national standards. But the prospects for getting the bill passed and sent to President Biden for his signature are slim, at best.

Meanwhile, passing AB 660 would give California consumers a clearer sense 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, to pass a food expiration labeling bill that would help consumers and the environment.

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𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆:
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗠𝗖𝗔,
𝗣𝗹𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝗱 𝘂𝘀 𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗶𝗹 𝗮𝘁

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