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Federal Bill Aims To Make Food Expiration Dates Less Confusing, Reduce Waste

Last updated on June 13th, 2024 at 11:52 am

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate and House Wednesday would make expiration date labeling on food less confusing, helping to eliminate a key cause of consumer food waste in the U.S.

Forty percent of food in America goes uneaten, and consumers are responsible for more of that waste than grocery stores, restaurants or any other part of the supply chain. Confusing date labels are a major contributor to consumer waste, because they often are misinterpreted as an indicator that food could make them sick and must be tossed.

The companion bills, introduced by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), would establish standard federal rules for the dates on food labels.

The bill comes on the heels of a new national public service campaign from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Ad Council called “Save The Food” that is designed to combat consumer food waste. You can watch TV PSA here.

“Contrary to popular belief, expiration date labels often don’t indicate whether food is still safe to eat,” said NRDC Senior Scientist Dana Gunders. “As a result, we are tossing massive amounts of perfectly good food in the trash—along with all of the water, climate pollution and money it took to get it to our fridge. This bill will help clarify the true meaning of the dates on food labels, giving consumers a better sense of food’s freshness, so we can keep more on our plates and out of the landfill.”

There are no federal rules that set standard ways to date food labels, with the exception of infant formula. State and local rules vary, and, in most instances, industry practice is to print dates based on the manufacturers’ suggestions for when food is likely to be at its freshest or peak quality.

Studies show that up to 90 percent of Americans are misinterpreting date labels and throwing food away prematurely due to the misconception that it’s necessary to protect their families’ health.

Last fall, the Obama administration set a target for reducing U.S. food waste 50 percent nationwide by 2030. The United Nations issued a similar goal days later. With consumers responsible for the bulk of food waste in America, and misleading date labels a key cause of consumer confusion, this bill can help reach those goals.

When it goes to waste, so do all of the resources used to grow, store and transport food:

  • If global food loss and waste were a country, it would have the world’s largest greenhouse gas footprint after the U.S. and China.
  • Twenty-eight percent of the world’s agricultural land—an area larger than Canada—is used to grow food that never gets eaten.
  • In the U.S., 25 percent of fresh water goes into producing food that is never eaten.
  • Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste in U.S. landfills.

The U.S. is throwing away $162 billion worth of food each year. That’s a problem that the NRDC says is costing the average American family of four roughly $1,500 every year. Yet, at the same time, one in seven Americans is food insecure.


Nestlé supports legislation

nestle logo sfwNestlé joined lawmakers, food company representatives, food bank officials, environmental advocates and academics in support of the joint effort in the U.S. senate and house to standardize date labels on foods stocked on grocery store shelves.

The goal of the proposed legislation is to reduce food waste through streamlining product date labels, which are confusing and lead to 160 billion pounds of food prematurely deposited into landfills across the country. The result has an economic and environmental impact that could be avoided by clearer date labeling practices that consumers can easily interpret.

The bills would override state laws and regulations on food code dating to created federal standards. Inconsistent usage of terms such as “use by,” “sell by,” “best by” and “expires on” creates confusion and therefore more waste as consumers try to decipher what is safe for themselves and their families.

“We fully support establishing federal standards to help food companies like Nestlé more clearly communicate with consumers and avoid confusion that leads to unnecessary food waste,” said Paul Grimwood, chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA. “Nestlé has already committed to achieve zero waste to landfill in 100 percent of our production facilities by 2020 and we’re well on our way to achieving that goal. Standardizing date labeling is a practical and commonsense approach to giving consumers the information they need to help extend this effort all the way to their own kitchens.”

Steps Nestlé said it has taken to progress toward curbing food waste include:

  • In addition to launching the global Nestlé Commitment to reduce food loss and waste in 2015, Nestlé joined other members of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) in resolving to halve food waste across its operations by 2025 against a 2016 baseline.
  • Nestlé S.A. CEO joined the Champions 12.3 coalition, which seeks to inspire action and accelerate progress toward meeting Target 12.3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to halve per capita food waste and reduce food losses by 2030.
  • To date, 40 of Nestlé’s U.S. factories have achieved zero waste to landfill status, and the company is on course to meet its goal of 100 percent of factories achieving zero waste by 2020.
  • For more than 25 years, Nestlé has partnered with Feeding America in the fight against hunger. As a Leadership Level partner, it has donated more than 110 million pounds of food and beverages in the last six years alone, the equivalent of 16 million meals annually.
  • In the U.S., Nestlé has reduced its packaging weight by 9 percent since 2010, creating efficiencies while maintaining shelf life of products.

“When you look at the global production capacity for food, it will become more and more challenging to produce enough to feed our growing population, and that’s why minimizing waste is so critical,” said Grimwood. “It’s imperative that we find ways to be more efficient in every part of food production to ensure that food is being used like the scarce resource that it is. We have to start treating it like any other precious commodity instead of a disposable one to reduce cost and the burden on our planet.”

Nestlé in the U.S. consists of eight main businesses: Nestlé USA, Nestlé Waters North America, Nestlé Nutrition, Nestlé Professional, Nespresso, Nestlé Health Science, Nestlé Skin Health and Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. Together, these companies operate in more than 120 locations in 47 states and employ more than 51,000 people. Nestlé is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2016.

About the author

Shelby Team

The Shelby Report delivers complete grocery news and supermarket insights nationwide through the distribution of five monthly regional print and digital editions. Serving the retail food trade since 1967, The Shelby Report is “Region Wise. Nationwide.”

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