Legislators & industry tackle food waste by easing donation guidelines & tightening expiry labeling

Legislators & industry tackle food waste by easing donation guidelines & tightening expiry labeling

Legislation aimed at redirecting food that would be wasted to hungry Americans would make it easier for stakeholders to donate food and reduce the risk that consumers prematurely throw away food that they erroneously believe has spoiled.

The Food Donation Act of 2017, a bipartisan bill introduced in the House Feb. 7 by Reps. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and James McGovern, D-Mass., if enacted would extend liability protection to manufacturers, retailers and restaurants in the position to donate to those in need food that otherwise would be wasted.

“This legislation can support big increases on the ground in terms of wholesome food donations. Approximately 40% of the food produced in the US goes uneaten, resulting in 63 million tons of wasted food each year. Although much of this excess food is healthy and safe to eat, a significant amount ends up in landfills, instead of on the plates of those in need,” Fudge said in a written statement.

“Food donation provides a critical link between businesses and organizations with wholesome, surplus foods and the 42 million Americans, including 13 million children, who are food insecure,” she adds.

Yet, “a survey by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance found that 44% of food manufacturers, 41% of restaurants and 25% of retailers identified liability concerns as a barrier to food” donations, Pingree said in a statement.

To that end, the Food Donation Act of 2017 would expand liability protections to non-profit retailers and those that donate food directly to individuals. Under current legislation, these protections only extend to donations to non-profits.

“The legislation also would reduce several barriers to food donation,” Fudge says in a statement. “For example, it would eliminate labeling requirements that are not necessary for safety and clarify that donations of past-due food are protected.”

She explained that under current legislation, donated food must meet all labeling requirements, including standards that are not related to food safety, such as the net quantity of contents. However, under the new bill, products that manufacturers cannot sell because of mislabeling not related to safety would be fair game for donation.

Are expiration dates past due?

The legislation also would make it easier for stakeholders to donate “past-date food” that is still safe.

“Date labels on food are generally indicators of peak freshness; yet, many consumers, potential food donors, and state and local governments mistakenly interpret these labels as indicators of safety,” according to Fudge. “This Act extends liability protection to explicitly cover such foods, thereby preventing unnecessary waste and encouraging the donation of wholesome foods that can feed families in need.”

Rep. Pingree says she also plans to reintroduce the Food Date Labeling Act, which was originally introduced in the last congress with the goal of making food date labels more consistent and less confusing.

“The current dizzying array of date labels on food products – such as ‘sell by,’ ‘use by,’ and ‘expires on’ – confuses consumers and contributes to 90% of Americans prematurely tossing perfectly safe food,” her office said when the legislation was first introduced last May.

The bicameral bill sought to create a uniform national system for date labeling that clarifies between foods that are no longer safe to eat and those that simply are past their peak quality time.

Members of Congress are not the only ones trying to find a solution to consumer confusion around sell-by, best-used-by and other label claims related to food freshness and safety.

The US Department of Agriculture in December updated its food product labeling guidance to encourage food manufacturers and retailers that use product dating to use “Best if Used By” as it says, “research shows that this phrase is easily understood by consumers as an indicator of quality, rather than safety.”

Industry also is taking a stab at the problem. The Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association announced Feb. 15 a new initiative to streamline the more than 10 different date labels currently used on packages to just two: “BEST If Used By” for product quality and “USE By” for foods that pose a safety concern over time.

The trade associations want companies and retailers to begin phasing in the new restricted terms immediately so that widespread adoption is in place by the summer of 2018.

Incentives for food waste reduction

Finally, Pingree promises to reintroduce in the coming weeks the Food Recovery Act, which her office says, “was the first comprehensive legislation to address food waste through federal investments and tax credits, research and a public awareness campaign.”

Part of the legislation also encouraged schools to help reduce food waste by purchasing lower-price “ugly” fruits and vegetables, which are just as nutritious and often look the same as their more perfect counterparts once they are prepared.

It also would direct USDA to develop new technology to increase the shelf life of fresh food and require the department to establish a way to estimate food wasted at the farm, according to the text of the previously introduced bill with the same name. 

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