Legislation for 'sell by' national standard could reduce food waste, but at a cost

Dive Brief:

  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is introducing legislation that would create a national standard for "Sell By" and related food labels.
  • As they stand, these labels confuse consumers about food safety and lead to billions of pounds of unnecessary food waste each year, Blumenthal said.
  • Steve Armstrong, chief food law counsel for Campbell Soup, said at a meeting with Blumenthal and other food industry experts and representatives that Campbell and other food companies back "uniform national standards" for food dating, which he said would benefit manufacturers in addition to consumers, retailers, and food banks.

Dive Insight:

Currently, food and beverage manufacturers use an array of labeling terms to denote shelf life  "Best By," "Sell By," "Use By" but these terms may not always refer to food safety as much as food quality. This means consumers are throwing away food that may not be at its peak texture, taste, and nutrition levels but that is still safe to consume or donate. That waste also happens at the manufacturer level when companies don't know whether they are legally allowed to donate food beyond these dates based on varied state laws.

A national standard could lead to overhauls that are likely to increase costs for manufacturers for labeling changes and any additional research needed to determine new dates to meet the national standard. A similar bill has already been introduced in the House. 

Food waste has become a concern for the industry and country as a whole. Last year, USDA and EPA announced the first national waste reduction goals, and the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, a joint venture of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Food Marketing Institute, and National Restaurant Association, released a food waste guide for the industry.

Filed Under: Packaging / Labeling Food Safety