AB 954 establishes voluntary statewide guidelines for food date labels so they relate directly to freshness and safety
Sacramento, CA – A bill by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) to help reduce food waste in California by clarifying confusing food date labels passed the State Assembly today. Assembly Bill (AB) 954 standardized guidelines for food date labels to make sure they better describe food freshness and safety. Specifically, the bill directs the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Public Health to create voluntary uniform language for food date labels that would include “BEST if used by” for foods that lose freshness over time and “USE by” for the limited number of foods that should be consumed by a certain date for safety reasons.
“Every day we open our refrigerators and wonder what the dates on our food mean,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “In a state where 6 million families are food insecure, a startling amount of food is being wasted every single day because of arbitrary date labels. Consumers deserve to know what our labels mean and whether or not our food is safe to eat. This bill mirrors industry best practices and moves us closer to uniform date labels, which will reduce unnecessary food waste.”
Date labels on food come in a dizzying variety of forms including “use by,” “best before,” “sell by,” and “enjoy by,” yet these simple markers are both poorly understood and surprisingly under-regulated. Confusing and misleading labels cause many consumers and stores to throw out perfectly healthy food, leading to 5.5 million tons of food dumped in landfills every year in California. Food is the single most prevalent item in our state’s waste stream and emits 8.3 million tons of greenhouse gases each year, contributing 20 percent of the state’s methane emissions.
A report called “The Dating Game” by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Center and NRDC (read it here) revealed that nearly 40 percent of the food produced in the United States never gets eaten. Date labels are part of the problem: the study found that 90 percent of American consumers occasionally throw out food based on date labels out of concern for safety. Additionally, food waste costs the average American family of four $1,365 to $2,275 per year, or roughly 25 percent of all the food they buy.
“The confusing and inconsistent terminology used on date labels is one of the leading causes of food waste in people’s homes. By standardizing the terms used by different manufacturers, AB 954 will help empower consumers to make informed decisions about which food they need to toss and which food is perfectly wholesome,” said Nick Lapis, Director of Advocacy for Californians Against Waste. “This not only saves the natural resources that go into growing food that is never actually eaten, but it also saves people money.”
“The hodgepodge of date labels on food come in an incomprehensible variety of forms including “use by,” “best before,” “sell by,” and “enjoy by” dates. Yet these indicators do not generally indicate food safety,” said Victoria Rome, California Legislative Director for the NRDC. “Promoting these voluntary standard phrases with definition is the foundation needed to begin educating consumers on the meaning of labels, leading to less wasted food and agricultural resources, and reducing the amount of uneaten food being dumped into landfills.”
National industry leaders, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, recently opted to create voluntary date label guidelines using the exact model of AB 954 to date their products.
AB 954 now heads to the State Senate.