FLPC applauds California Bill to Standardize Food Date Labels

Assembly Member David Chiu of San Francisco recently introduced a groundbreaking bill to standardize date labels across food products in California. The Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) enthusiastically supports bill AB 2725, which addresses key policy changes recommended by FLPC and will bring much-needed uniformity and clarity to California’s date labeling system.

The United States is experiencing a food waste crisis. Food waste has been on the rise since the 1970s, with per capita food waste increasing by 50% since 1974. Today, that amounts to 40% of the food produced in the United States going uneaten, equaling 160 billion pounds of wasted food. Food waste is also a huge problem on the state level, especially in California.  In California, 5.5 million tons of food ends up in the landfill, making food one of the main contributors to municipal solid waste in that State. This wasted food releases more than 8.3 million tons of greenhouse gases, contributing to 20 percent of California’s methane emissions.

Confusion over the meaning of date labels is a great contributor to this food waste.  Surveys show that 91% of consumers reporting they throw away food when the date on the label arrives. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of date labels are meant to indicate when a food is at its peak quality and bear no relation to food safety. AB 2725 seeks to reduce consumer confusion surrounding date labels and food safety, and the unnecessary food waste that results from this confusion.

The bill will standardize date labels through the use of a dual label system, which would provide clarity by reducing the available labeling language to two phrases: one quality date indicator and one safety date indicator­.

Regarding quality dates used on the majority of food products, the legislation would allow manufacturers to include a date indicating a food product’s quality, as long as the date is indicated by the standard phrase “best if used by.” Because quality is subjective, the use of a quality date would be optional, but if used would be required to utilize that standard phrase.

A safety date, indicated by the standard language “expires on,” would be required on a small group of foods that are identified by the California Department of Public Health as being ready-to-eat foods that have a high level of risk associated with consumption after a specified date, such as deli meats or unpasteurized cheeses.  This system will allow consumers to clearly differentiate between dates related to quality and those that indicate safety concerns, allowing consumers to make better decisions for their wallets and their health.

This groundbreaking legislation would help bring California in line with most other countries that standardize date labels, and would address the key challenges and goals FLPC has advocated over the past several years. In our report The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America (published with the Natural Resources Defense Council), we revealed that there are virtually no federal regulations for expiration date, with the exception of infant formula, and as a result states enforce a variety of inconsistent laws and consumers everywhere are confused. AB 2725 can make a big difference in limiting the amount of food waste in California and provides a great model for other states and the federal government for how standardized date labeling can reduce confusion, wasted consumer money, and wasted food.

FLPC worked with advocates and government officials on this exciting piece of legislation, and is pleased to support this bill, which will bring much-needed clarity and science to California’s date labeling system and hopefully provide inspiration for others to follow suit in the near future.