FLPC Welcomes Food Law and Policy Clinic 2018 Summer Interns

FLPC Welcomes Food Law and Policy Clinic 2018 Summer Interns

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic is pleased to welcome the following interns working in the health clinic for the summer!


Amy Hoover

Amy Hoover is a rising 2L at the University of Oregon School of Law. She is a research fellow in the Food Resiliency Project within the law school’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center, and she leads the Good Food Group, a law student organization. Before law school, Amy worked as a community organizer and grant writer addressing rural and farm issues with the Center for Rural Affairs and as a cook and intern instructor in restaurant kitchens. Amy earned a bachelor’s in biology with a focus on neurobiology from Yale University, where she also added many food-related classes and activities. Amy’s favorite days involve shopping at farmers markets, making too-many-course meals, and singing in the kitchen.



Kyla Kaplan

Kyla is a rising 2L at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.  She became especially interested in the intersection of food law and policy, the environment and broader socio-economic disparities when she studied in Bocas del Toro, Panama and focused on food and waste issues in small island communities. In college, she helped to start a farming reentry program for recently incarcerated men. Simultaneously, Kyla began working in a lab that focused on urban food systems and marketplaces. During her 1L year, Kyla founded the Food Law Society and is helping to bring healthier, safer and more sustainable food options to Baltimore communities.  Kyla is excited to continue developing her passion for improving the way food is grown and distributed during her summer at FLPC!


Tess Pocock

Tess is a rising 3L at Drake University Law School, where she is enrolled in the Food and Agricultural Law Program. The child of restauranteurs, her interest in food policy was shaped by early mornings at the Des Moines Farmer’s Market, and sharing a love of food from the family stand. Prior to law school, Tess completed her Master’s in Gender Studies at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. During her time at Drake, Tess has been an intern for the Iowa Supreme Court, President of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, and participant in the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition. As a 3L, she looks forward to serving as food law liaison to the Drake Agricultural and Environmental Law Association, Managing Editor of the Drake Law Review, and Intern for the ACLU of Iowa. In her spare time, Tess enjoys developing vegan baking recipes, working at a jazz club, and exploring Iowa on bike.


Gabriel Wildgen

Gabriel Wildgen is a Harvard Law School J.D. Candidate. He is passionate about transforming our unsustainable and inhumane food system, in particular by replacing industrial animal agriculture with clean meat (cultured animal protein grown in bioreactors) and plant-based protein. He is the incoming co-president of the Harvard Law School Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, an HLS Sustainable Associate, a research assistant for Prof. Emily Broad Leib at the HLS Food Law and Policy Clinic,  and participated in thMississippipi Delta Project’s Food Policy Team. Prior to law school, Gabriel was a campaign manager with Humane Society International/Canada, where he led and participated in several animal protection campaigns and food policy initiatives pertaining to factory farming. Most recently, he has collaborated with institutions and major food service companies to reduce animal product consumption, including launching Canada’s first plant-based culinary training program for university and hospital cafeteria chefs. Gabriel holds a Combined Honors degree in Journalism and Political Science from Carleton University.


CHLPI Welcomes Health Law and Policy Clinic 2018 Summer Interns

The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School is pleased to welcome the following interns working in the health clinic for the summer!

Elaine Hsieh

Elaine Hsieh is a rising 3L at the University of Oklahoma Law School. Hsieh (Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2004) is also a full professor of Health Communication at the University of Oklahoma. She has received NIH funding to examine challenges to quality care when providers and patients do not share the same language. As a 2015-2016 Fulbright Scholar, she explored health disparities faced by South East Asian immigrants in Taiwan. She has over 80 research publications, including a single-authored book published by Routledge in 2016, on health disparities and inequalities experienced by immigrants and marginalized populations. As a faculty member, she frequently led undergraduate students to provide health interventions in local communities, including homeless shelters and elderly homes. Recognizing that public policy and health laws are essential to improving individuals’ access, process, and quality of care, she aims to build synergy of her expertise in health communication and legal research/advocacy to address challenges faced by minority and marginalized populations. She hopes to continue and expand her career in providing meaningful solutions in health practices and health policies through evidence-based investigations.


Nur Kara 

Nur Kara is a rising 2L at the University of North Carolina School of Law. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 2014 with a B.A. in Political Science, spending her summers interning in the human rights and global health spaces. Thereafter, she worked as Program Coordinator at the University of Chicago Center for Global Health and went on to conduct a survey-based study on menstrual hygiene management among adolescent schoolgirls in New Delhi, India as a Fulbright Student Researcher. In 2017, Nur graduated with a dual MSc. in Health Policy, Planning & Financing from the London School of Economics and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Now at UNC, Nur serves as the President of the Carolina Health Law Organization and continues her passion for public service via healthcare, family law, and Title IX pro bono projects. Post-graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in international health law through litigation, regulatory, and/or policy-advocacy work.


Matthew Stephen Reynolds

Matt is finishing up his MPH at Tufts this summer before continuing on in the MD program in the fall. Matt will be joining us to work on the Food is Medicine State Plan for his capstone project- a near perfect intersection of Matt’s interests in using public health and nutrition approaches to complement our standard healthcare efforts and improve patient outcomes. Matt was raised in New England, but prior to attending Tufts he received a degree in Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.



Erin Sclar

Erin is a rising 2L at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Prior to law school, Erin founded Community Partners Consulting Services, a consulting firm that worked with health care organizations on advocacy projects. Erin focused on issues related to access to health care, Medicaid, and health equity. Erin also worked in Legislative Affairs at America’s Essential Hospitals in Washington, DC, an organization representing more than 300 hospitals that care for low-income patients. Her work included managing The Partnership for Medicaid, a coalition of more than 20 health care providers, plans, and local government officials committed to supporting Medicaid access and quality.

Erin earned a Master’s degree in Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis, where she focused on social and economic development and health care policy. She holds Bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame.

After law school, Erin hopes to continue working in health policy and advocacy, focusing on improving health care access and health equity.


What is the Farm Bill? From Food Stamps to Conservation Efforts, a Look at the Massive Legislation

Originally published on May 14, 2018 by Fox News. Written by Kaitlyn Schallhorn.


House Republicans are gearing up for their next project: the farm bill.

From food stamps to conservation issues, the farm bill is a huge piece of legislation that needs to be updated by Congress about every 5 years. It influences everything about agriculture production — from how food is grown to how its distributed, including on an international level.

The farm bill’s massive size and undertaking gives way to various critiques from those who think its too costly or doesn’t do quite enough. House Republicans are reportedly just short of the 218 votes it needs to pass it; President Trump will threaten to veto the legislation if it doesn’t include tight enough work requirements for people on food stamps, sources told Fox News.

Read on for a brief overview of what’s in the bill and why it’s so important.

What is the farm bill?

A complicated omnibus package, the farm bill, at its core, regulates agriculture production in the U.S. In particular, it tackles how produce is grown, what it costs and how American agriculture exists in the international food arena, Dr. Marion Nestle, a well-known New York University food nutritionist, told Fox News.

The goals of the farm bill have changed over time, from having more of a focus on a safety net for farmers to including protection from hunger, said Margot Pollans, a Pace University law professor and member of the Farm Bill Enterprise.

What’s in it?

The nearly 700-page bill covers a myriad of agriculture-related regulations and programs, including conservation issues, commodity subsidies and crop insurance.

Among some items included in the massive bill are: a $100 million feral swine control pilot program, $450 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify animal disease outbreaks, incentives for beginning farmers, resources to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic and $50 million to assist disadvantaged farmers and military veterans in agriculture, according to a fact sheet.

Ferd Hoefner, senior strategic advisor for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, says programs that promote fresh products into the food system should not be overlooked — even if, he said, lawmakers do.

“If you put more emphasis on things that relate to organic produce or new farmers or renewable energy on farms, then there might be more public support for a bill that otherwise, in broad strokes, the general public thinks of as having big subsidies for big farms,” Hoefner told Fox News.

Aren’t food stamps in this bill?

The farm bill includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) under the nutrition component of the massive legislation.

It’s the SNAP portion of the bill that dominates the conversation, Nestle said, even though the legislation covers so much more.

The House bill, as it stands now, would tighten already existing work requirements for the SNAP program. It would require all “work capable adults” between the ages of 18 and 59 to work or participate in work training programs for at least 20 hours per week, meaning a greater number of people would have to work or enroll in work training to receive food assistance.

Seniors, disabled people, those caring for children under the age of 6 and pregnant women would be exempt from these requirements, according to a committee fact sheet.

Democrats have objected to the inclusion of new requirements for SNAP in the House bill, saying it could throw as many as two million people off the program. Those opposed also say the bill does not provide enough funding for job training and would create bulky bureaucracies to keep up with extensive rule keeping.

“It makes no sense to put the farmers and rural communities who rely on the farm bill’s safety net programs at risk in pursuit of partisan ideology on SNAP,” House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said in an April statement, adding that the bill “attempts to change SNAP from a feeding program to a work program.”

Pollans told Fox News the inclusion of the SNAP program in the farm bill is an “exciting opportunity to bridge the urban and rural divide.” However, she called the additional work requirements added to the House bill “a threat to working families,” especially for those who have “less formal employment or an hourly schedule by bosses they don’t have any control over.”

“I think the requirements are coming from a real misunderstanding of how SNAP benefits are used and families who are using them,” she said.

How much does it cost?

For the 2014 farm bill, which is currently in place, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) originally predicted the total cost of mandatory programs — which typically operate as entitlements — would be $489 billion. About 99 percent of the predicted mandatory program outlays were taken by four out of 12 titles, according to the CBO: conservation, crop insurance, farm commodity support and nutrition.

SNAP is included under the nutrition umbrella, which makes up about 80 percent of the total mandatory funding.

So what are the problems with bill?

Because it’s so large, there are a wide array of complaints from economic and agriculture-focused think tanks and policymakers.

“What there’s no sign of — and there hasn’t been for a while — people who are involved in agriculture policy sitting down and thinking what kind of an agriculture policy we need in a situation where we’re dealing with climate change,” Nestle said. “If you’re doing rational agriculture policy, you want to have enough food to feed the people, farmers to be able to make a living, and an agriculture system that will promote public health and do the least possible harm to the environment.”

“If you’re doing rational agriculture policy, you want to have enough food to feed the people, farmers to be able to make a living, and an agriculture system that will promote public health and do the least possible harm to the environment.”

– Dr. Marion Nestle

Caroline Kitchens, a policy analyst at the conservative R Street Institute who has a focus on agriculture issues, called the legislation a “bloated bill” and “even more wasteful and full of cronyism than previous iterations,” in a blog post.

“We have limited funds, and when we’re facing a big deficit, we should make sure that we’re spending money on people who really need it,” Kitchens told Fox News, criticizing the increases in commodity subsidies for farms.

“If we’re going to have work requirements for recipients of welfare, we should have requirements for farmers, too. If you’re not working on the farm, it’s ridiculous to get handouts,” she said.

If this is a House bill, what is the Senate doing?

While the Senate version of this bill has not yet been released, Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told the Wall Street Journal it would not be as far-reaching as the House legislation.

A committee aide has told Fox News that the Senate version would not contain “revolutionary reforms” to programs, but added it’s premature to say just what will be included.

What has Trump said about it?

Trump has warned senior lawmakers that he will veto the bill if it doesn’t include tighter work requirements for people who have food stamps, a source familiar with the discussions told Fox News.

In April, Trump highlighted what he called a “great” statistic showing the number of people on food stamps has fallen since January 2017.

“The American people are finally back to work!” he tweeted.


2018 Farm Bill Must Prioritize Small Farmers and Food Insecure Communities

Originally published by Food Tank on May 4, 2018. Written by Katherine Walla.

As the reauthorization of the Farm Bill approaches, three newly released reports urge Congress to address the long-term needs of small farmers and food insecure communities in the the 2018 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill Law Enterprise (FBLE) applies a justice lens to the farm bill debate, outlining policy steps necessary for building a reliable and nutritious food supply, an honest living for farmers, a healthy environment, and a strong safety net against hunger.

“For most Americans, and even for Congress, there is a gulf between caring about these goals and understanding how to pass solutions through the farm bill,” says Lee Miller, author at FBLE; “making the farm bill more intentional and efficient requires policymakers to analyze each farm bill program and assess whether it’s contributing to larger public values and goals.”

FBLE, a national partnership of law school programs, gathered food, public health, and environmental law research to analyze each component of the Farm Bill and develop three reports. Each report addresses a particular weakness of the current Farm Bill, focusing on a specific theme: Diversified Agricultural Economies; Food Access, Nutrition and Public Health; and Productivity and Risk Management. FBLE notes that their recommendations are particularly important as the the draft of the 2018 Farm Bill, H. R. 2 Agriculture and Nutrition Act, excludes farm bill stakeholders.

FBLE acknowledged small and mid-sized farmers contribute significantly to rural economies and agricultural sustainability, yet “structural changes in American agriculture have shifted the benefits of farm bill programs toward fewer, larger operations.” Furthermore, lack of diversity continues to hinder diverse small and mid-sized farmers from creating lasting impacts in their communities. While white farmers receive 98 percent of federal farm program payments, the report notes that diverse farmers—whose agricultural production makes up a significant portion of their and their community’s livelihoods—lack support.

To diversify farms, farming techniques, and farmer demographics, FBLE recommends Congress redistributes funding to small and mid-sized farmers and increase access to markets, insurance, credit, and land.

The report notes that the Farm Bill’s programs for food access, nutrition, and public health, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), have proven successful for low-income communities. However, as healthier food costs about US$1.50 more per day, FBLE recommends Congress increase funding for assistance programs so that poor households can not only achieve food security, but also maintain healthy diets.

To address productivity and risk management, FBLE calls upon Congress to increase fair practices and conservation efforts in crop insurance programs. According to the report, the largest 15 percent of farm operations receive as much as 90 percent of all crop insurance subsidies; FBLE suggests Congress reform current programs and invest in pilot programs to spread benefits of crop insurance evenly.

To better meet the needs of producers, protect natural resources, and boost productivity, FBLE recommends that Congress enforces conservation laws and research programs that improve risk management, with a focus on investments in soil health, resilient agronomic systems and natural resources conservation.

Click here to read the full reports and track the Farm Bill’s progress.


Making the Case to Clarify Safety Procedures for Food Donation

Written by Molly Malavey, student in the Spring 2018 Food Law and Policy Clinic.

Members of FLPC’s food waste team had the exciting opportunity to attend April 2018’s Conference for Food Protection’s (CFP) Biennial Meeting in Richmond, VA, bringing the issue of food donation for the Council’s consideration. CFP is a wholly unique non-profit organization that gives food regulators, industry, academia, consumers, and professional organizations an opportunity to engage in a formal process to provide input into influential food safety guidance, such as the FDA Food Code. The FDA Food Code includes model food safety standards for the food retail and food service industries, and a version of the Food Code has been adopted by all 50 states.

The CFP’s model for deliberating and accepting issues is both fascinating and exceedingly particular. Any interested party can submit an issue—often a specific change to the FDA Food Code—for consideration. At the Council sessions, submitters briefly make their case to the designated Council, and the Council formally deliberates the issue using a process governed by parliamentary rules. The Council has broad discretion to accept, amend, or deny submissions. Once the Councils makes their recommendations, an Assembly of State Delegates votes to either accept the recommendations or to extract issues for deliberation by the CFP Executive Board. When issues are accepted, either as submitted or as amended, the CFP will take actions such as forming a committee to study a topic or sending a letter to FDA recommending a change to the FDA Food Code.

FLPC presented on food safety for food donation in Council I, Laws and Regulations with the recommendation that the FDA Food Code clarify food safety procedures that apply to food establishments when they donate food to food recovery organizations.

Nothing in the current FDA Food Code prevents the donation of food, but restaurants and retailers are often unsure about the specific safety procedures they need to follow when making donations. Since the FDA Food Code, and most state laws, don’t specifically address which food safety laws apply to food donation, potential donors are left wondering what procedures they must follow to donate safely and in compliance with the law. This confusion and lack of clarity causes potential donors to err on the side of caution and decide not to donate at all, contributing to food waste. Model language in the FDA Food Code affirming that food donation is lawful and specifying food safety procedures for food donations would go a long way toward facilitating food recovery, and would ensure that food is donated safely.

Council I, made up of twenty-two representatives from regulatory agencies, industry, academia, and consumer groups, heard our issue on Day 3 of the Conference. Prior to our presentation, we spoke with several Councilmembers who expressed support for the concept of food donation.  Yet we could not predict how our issue would be received by the Council, as our proposal would add an entirely new section on this topic to the FDA Food Code.

The Council’s ultimate resolution was positive.

After a long deliberation at the initial hearing on whether the FDA Food Code is the proper medium for food safety guidance for donations (and FLPC believes it is), the Council tabled our recommendation.

Upon rehearing, the Council determined two things. First, it accepted that language be added to the FDA Food Code to clarify that it does not preclude food donations. Second, it determined that a committee should be created to evaluate existing food safety guidance and recommend specific language to be added to the FDA Food Code at the next CFP meeting in 2020. Overall, this was a big step forward for food recovery at the CFP!

This major step for food recovery was the icing on the cake of a great week at the CFP, which proved to be an exciting event for anyone interested in the food system and policy making. While at first the rigorously-procedural nature of the CFP seemed tedious, I grew to love it. It doesn’t take long to see that Councilmembers deeply care about the exercise, and consistently give patient and respectful consideration to every matter that comes before them. Ultimately, these procedures facilitated interesting conversation, especially given the wide array of industry and regulatory interests and viewpoints. At the end of the day, all opinions were welcome at the table.


Hospitals Lure Diabetes Patients With Self-Care Courses, But Costs Can Weigh Heavily

Published by Kaiser Health News on April 26, 2018. Written by Julie Appleby.

When a routine physical revealed mildly elevated blood-sugar levels, Michael Phillips was strongly encouraged to sign up for a diabetes self-management class.

Phillips never asked about the cost of the two half-day sessions he attended in a conference room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens, Ga., and doesn’t recall the instructor mentioning it.

But the 64-year-old retired bank analyst was flabbergasted when he opened his bill after attending.

“What, $1,044 for a class?” said Phillips, who fought the bill with the hospital and his insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia. “The hospital is charging an exorbitant rate, but BCBS is going along with it — why aren’t they screaming about being gouged?”

There are about 1.5 million Americans newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes each year. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which people produce no insulin that begins in childhood, Type 2 diabetes is a condition of adulthood, typically associated with weight and a sedentary lifestyle.

Michael Phillips was flabbergasted when he got a bill for $1,044 for a diabetes self-management class that he took at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens, Ga. He fought the bill with both the hospital and his insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia. (Credit: Patrick Hutchinson)

Diabetes self-management programs teach patients how to monitor their blood sugars, what to eat and the importance of exercise as strategies to delay or avoid the disease’s serious complications.

Patients like Phillips, with early or mild diabetes, can modify their habits so that their blood sugar returns to normal.

But the classes, targeting a disease that affects 30 million Americans, have also become a revenue generator for hospitals and an opportunity for marketing and branding.

“If you can get 25 in the class and charge $500 each, you can make a lot of money,” said Gerard Anderson, a professor of health policy and management Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School Public Health. An additional incentive is that the classes bring “people into the hospital that they expect will need the hospital in the future.”

Phillips’ class had about a dozen students, who got a free lunch, free parking and a sample of Glucerna, a nutrition drink formulated for diabetics. The instructor noted that St. Mary’s operates a gym that participants could join for a fee.

Diabetes is among the costliest of medical conditions. The American Diabetes Association estimates that average medical expenditures for those diagnosed with diabetes are 2.3 times higher than those without.

The classes, say experts, are a chance to rein in some of that spending. When Harvard Law School researchers ran the numbers in 2015, they found an estimated savings of $1,309 over three years for every Medicare Advantage patient who completed an education program.

But for many patients, the cost of the classes can either become a barrier to actually attending, or leave them with unanticipated bills.

After St. Mary’s billed Phillips’ insurer $1,044 for the two half-day classes he attended, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, in turn, lowered that to $626, or the “allowed amount” it had negotiated with St. Mary’s. Because he had not yet met his $3,500 annual deductible, Phillips is responsible for the entire $626.

Phillips, who took early retirement from his job in 2005 to care for his elderly parents, said he likely would not have attended had he known the price. He’d expected the instruction to cost about $50, noting that he’d already paid $120 for a one-on-one session with one of the hospital’s certified diabetes educators or CDEs.

Medicare sets an average reimbursement of $356 for an entire nine-hour group course, with the beneficiary’s share of that amount estimated at $71.

St. Mary’s said it is proud of its fully accredited program, which helps diabetes patients manage their condition.

“Our charges are in line with other similarly recognized programs in the state,” according to a written statement from Mark Ralston, public relations director for the St. Mary’s Health Care System.

“Prior to enrollment, we send patients a letter that includes information that there will be a charge,” the statement said, noting that the amount “the patient will pay depends on the patient’s insurance coverage.”

Ralston also noted that, because St. Mary’s is a Catholic health care system, “we are always happy to work with patients who have financial difficulties, up to and including applications for charity care.”

Phillips’ charges seem high even though they were for a program that might actually save the insurer money over the long term, said William Custer, who studies health care markets as the director of the Center for Health Services Research at Georgia State University.

He questioned why the insurer didn’t drive a harder bargain.

“If the course has a benefit in terms of increasing health and reducing utilization, Blue Cross has an incentive to cover it and an incentive to negotiate,” said Custer.

Blue Cross is one of the state and the region’s major insurers, Custer said, so it should have negotiated a better price.

Colin Manning, a spokesman for the insurer said, “We do have questions about the amount charged for this class and we are reaching out to St. Mary’s Hospital to discuss reimbursement for this service.”

Diabetes management courses vary considerably in length and format, and even more so in price.

Internet searches and phone calls uncovered some cost examples, ranging from a $396, nine-hour course in Ohio to one in Wisconsin that lasted six hours and had a $420 price.

One of the most expensive — a 7½-hour diabetes self-management group course that included two-hour individual sessions with a dietitian and a diabetes educator — cost $1,700 in Washington state.

Howard County General Hospital in Maryland has decided to bypass insurance and charge patients $50 upfront for a six-hour course taught by a certified diabetes educator. That price was selected because in many cases it was less than what people with insurance would pay in copayments or deductibles under the former price, which was billed to insurers at a rate of about $1,000.

Before they made the switch about a year and a half ago, patients would often cancel after learning how much they would owe, said Mike Taylor, a clinical manager and diabetes educator who runs the hospitals program. “We would literally lose half the appointments we would schedule.”

The Maryland hospital also offers free classes by a lay instructor.

Meanwhile, thinking his original bill was in error, Phillips in late January appealed St. Mary’s $1,044 charge to his insurer. It was denied a month later as the insurer noted the bill was “coded correctly.” Hospitals can charge what they like for their services.

And after being contacted by the hospital billing office in early April to confirm he was aware of his bill’s “delinquent status,” he wrote a second appeal letter.

Phillips said the class was well-taught, though he noted that he was already dieting before he took the class. He “followed what they said” and he has lost 31 pounds. His blood sugar, he added, is also back in the normal range.

“At least now I’m well-informed about what to eat and not eat if I ever do have diabetes,” he said wryly.

10 Reasons You Might Think Food’s Gone Bad When It’s Actually Still Safe to Eat

Published by Insider on April 19, 2018. Written by Maggie Angst.

If you have trouble deciphering the difference between food safety and food quality, you’re not the only one.

Food waste not only costs American families hundreds of dollars a year, it’s also the single largest component found in landfills across the country. And most of the time, pounds and pounds of food are thrown away merely due to confusion.

How long after an expiration date can you still eat a product? Does one small spot of mold mean a cheese has spoiled? Is discoloration a sign that meat has gone bad? The answer to most of these questions is it depends.

But here are 10 things to remember next time your questioning if something is safe to eat or not.

1. “Use by” and “Best by” dates merely indicate freshness

1. PROKate Ter Haar/Flickr

Whether you’re dealing with canned vegetables, a bottle of beer or a jar of mustard, most products remain safe to eat well beyond their “use buy” or “best buy” dates. For example, canned soups can sometimes last up to five years without spoiling, according to food safety specialists.

Use by and best by dates are dates the manufacturer deems a product reaches its peak quality or best flavor. They are placed on products with very little regulation and do indicate a food is no longer safe to eat, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

2. “Sell by” is intended for retailers, not consumers

It doesn’t indicate when food has expired.

If you take into account a product’s “sell by” date while grocery shopping, it’s time to lose that habit. Just because you’re eating something with a two-month-old “sell by” date, does not mean it has expired.

“Sell by” dates aren’t intended for you. They’re supposed to help retailers ensure proper turnover so products still have a long shelf life after you buy them, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Still, 91% of consumers occasionally throw food away based on the “sell by” date out of a mistaken concern for food safety, according to a study by Harvard Law and the Natural Defense Council. Those researchers argue this date should not even be visible to consumers because the confusion around it causes large quantities of food waste.


3. You don’t need to throw out bruised produce

3. You don't need to throw out bruised produce
Instead, you can remove the flawed section.
 Jon Bunting/Flickr

Don’t let your eyes fool you when it comes to bruised fruits and vegetables. Just because a banana or an avocado isn’t flawless, doesn’t mean it should be sentenced to the trash can.

According to Michigan State University, a bruise is simply a sign of cell damage and exposure to air. The reaction can make the fruit or vegetable softer and mushy, but it doesn’t pose a health hazard. If you want to pick away the bruised section of your banana for aesthetic reasons, go for it. But if you decide to eat it in spite of its flaws, you’ll survive just the same.

4. Meat changing colors does not indicate spoilage

4. Meat changing colors does not indicate spoilage
It may be spoiled if the smell and the texture changes in addition to the color.
 Mel Evans/AP

If the color of a piece of meat changes color in your fridge, it may be off-putting. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone bad.

Frozen and refrigerated meat and poultry may both experience color changes, but fading and darkening do not affect the safety, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. If the meat or poultry has an off odor or is sticky or slimy to the touch in addition to the color change, those are signs the product is spoiled and should not be eaten.


5. Watery yogurt doesn’t mean it’s past its prime

5. Watery yogurt doesn’t mean it’s past its prime
In yogurt, the watery layer is whey.

If you eat yogurt, you’ve surely opened a container to find a watery substance seemingly separated from your yogurt. While separation indicates expiration for some foods, it’s not the case with yogurt.

The watery substance you see on top of your yogurt is actually a natural protein called whey, which contains calcium, Vitamin D, and potassium, according to Spoon University. If your yogurt looks and smells alright, stir the liquid back in to get the full nutrients and you can keep on eating without concern.

6. You can still dig into that freezer burnt ice cream

6. You can still dig into that freezer burnt ice cream
It is safe to eat, even if it doesn’t look pretty.
 Matt Valentine/Shutterstock

Nothing is worse than opening a carton of ice cream you forgot about to find it covered in freezer burn. But if you’re cravings are strong enough to see beyond the color change and frozen bits, you’re safe to indulge.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, freezer burn is simply the result of a food’s exposure to air. The food will be dried out in spots and appear less appetizing, but it is completely safe to eat. In fact, any food frozen at or below 0 degrees should be safe to eat indefinitely, according to the USDA.


7.  Hard foods are safe to eat after removing mold

7.  Hard foods are safe to eat after removing mold
Consider Parmesan cheese, carrots, and salami.
 PROMarco Verch/Flickr

When spring cleaning time comes around and you make your way to the back of your fridge, it’s not uncommon to pull out an item sprinkled with fuzzy spots.

Generally mold is not a good sign, but hard foods like Parmesan cheese, carrots, and salami are safe to keep eating after you remove the moldy areas. That’s because mold cannot easily penetrate and spread on hard foods as it does on soft foods like grapes, bread and Brie cheese, according to Prevention.

If you see mold on a hard cheese or food product, cut about 1 inch around the damaged spot and store the item in a new food container.

8. Stale food is usually just a quality issue

8. Stale food is usually just a quality issue
You likely won’t get sick from stale cereal.

It’s probably hard to get past the missing crunch when you bite into a stale chip or a handful of cereal. But if you can move beyond the diminished taste and texture, eating stale food will pose no inherent danger to your health.

“Cereals don’t really go bad. There is not that much of a quality issue. If you leave your cereal box open, it can get stale, but you are still not going to get sick from it,” Emily Broad Leib, the director of Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic, told TIME magazine.


9. Some people actually prefer crystallized honey

9. Some people actually prefer crystallized honey
It doesn’t have to look runny like this.
 Siona Karen/Flickr

Keep a bottle or jar of honey long enough and it’s sure to crystallize. Instead of the runny honey you’re used to, you’ll need to scrape the new thick and grainy substance out of the jar with a spoon. Nevertheless, it’s perfectly fine to eat this way and some people actually prefer it because it’s easier to spread.

The crystallization of honey is a natural and spontaneous process that preserves the product’s flavor and contents. But if you prefer the honey’s liquid state, you can heat it up to make it pour-able again, according to Cooking Light.

10. Wilting does not make fresh vegetables inedible

10. Wilting does not make fresh vegetables inedible
Revive lettuce and other vegetable by rehydrating them.
 Julie Deshaies/Shutterstock

So you bought a head of lettuce at the beginning of the week, but by the time you get to eating it, it’s already wilted. Fear not, because portions of wilted and discolored vegetables can still be revived.

Fresh vegetables wilt because water evaporates and depletes their moisture content. Although wilting can sometimes signal plant disease or rotting, most vegetables can be saved. To revive the produce, re-hydrate it by cutting off any browned parts and submerging it in water, according to the Washington Post.

Wilted produce in otherwise good condition can also prove to be a great ingredient for soup, stew or stir-fry dishes.

2018 Farm Bill Would Extend Rural Development Grants, Establish Food Waste Liaison

Published by Waste Dive on April 18, 2018. Written by Cody Boteler.

Dive Brief:

  • The House Committee on Agriculture recently released H.R. 2, the 2018 Farm Bill, which has the potential to affect organic waste policy in multiple areas. 
  • The bill changes funding levels for some grants related to waste management programs in rural areas. It also appropriates funding for biorefining projects, and extends technical assistance programs for rural waste management programs by adding that such programs should “identify options to enhance long term sustainability of rural water and waste systems.”
  • As written, the bill would also establish a Food Loss and Waste Reduction Liaison within the office of the Secretary of Agriculture. The liaison would be responsible for coordinating federal projects and goals which are aimed at reducing food waste and for educating the public and other entities that are looking to reduce food waste.

Dive Insight 

While in large part a spending bill, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says H.R. 2 would have a minimum impact on overall federal spending. It doesn’t have the kind of budget-expanding numbers some departments see, but the farm bill still provides vital funding for rural waste management projects, which can be prohibitively expensive to start from scratch.

More notable than routine spending and grant programs, however, is the establishment of a dedicated position within the federal government, which focuses exclusively on food waste and food loss prevention. The food waste liaison would be tasked with sharing information across government agencies and working to reduce food waste at the national level.

The last time food waste got much attention from the federal government was in 2015, when the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture announced a voluntary goal of 50% reduction by 2030

The full mandate of the liaison runs from coordinating the implementation of food waste reduction programs between USDA, EPA and the Food and Drug Administration; educating and being a resource for those interested in food waste reduction; drawing special attention to the protections enumerated under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act; and making recommendations to expand food recovery efforts. The liaison may enter agreements with government research entities, institutions of higher education or nonprofits to produce material, lead workshops or conduct research.

As with many positions in the government, while the successes of the food waste liaison will largely depend on who fills the spot (and whether other officials in other agencies are willing to cooperate), it undeniably brings focus to the issue. The numbers behind food waste show it remains a critical issue, with some increase in consumer awareness, but one that hasn’t fully been addressed by state and local policymakers. Food is wasted at every level (including $15 billion-worth at farms), so national coordination could be useful in developing more effective strategies.

Emily Broad Leib, director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School, said the liaison “represents a step in the right direction,” but “we hoped to see more, and will continue to work with members of Congress to understand the importance of food waste reduction and these key ways that the farm bill can make a difference in this fight.”

Though aside from this position, the current farm bill text doesn’t go as far as many had hoped. A bill which would establish a national food waste policy is still sitting in committee. The bill would have given a boost to AD that uses food waste as a feedstock; encouraged schools to purchase “ugly” produce; standardized date labels; expanded protection under the Good Samaritan Act; and required studies about increasing the shelf life of food. 


Missed Opportunity for Food Waste in 2018 Proposed Farm Bill

On Wednesday, April 18, the House Agriculture Committee approved a draft of the 2018 Farm Bill, a recurring, omnibus piece of legislation that covers issues across our food system, from agricultural subsidies to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Because the farm bill implicates crop insurance, conservation, trade, rural development, SNAP, and much more in one single piece of legislation, it is bound to be highly controversial. However, food waste, an incredibly bipartisan issue with significant potential to reduce pervasive economic and environmental wastefulness, has gone almost entirely overlooked in this draft. Although the draft bill proposes the creation of a Food Loss and Waste Reduction Liaison within the USDA, an important step in the right direction, there are many other low-cost, beneficial measures that could be taken to address the issue of food waste through the farm bill.

The United States sends about 40% of food to landfills, spending billions of dollars each year on this wasted food. The farm bill is the only piece of legislation that touches virtually every aspect of the food system, and as such is the perfect vehicle for enacting legislation to combat food waste. The 2018 Farm Bill will be the first farm bill since the USDA and EPA announced their goal to cut U.S. food waste in half by 2030, and we hoped to see Congress take concrete, decisive action towards meeting that goal in this farm bill.

Anticipating this landmark piece of legislation, FLPC published Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste in the 2018 Farm Bill in May 2017. This report identified areas in the 2018 Farm Bill where Congress could improve or enact policies to reduce the millions of tons of food wasted each year in America. The 17 recommendations set forth in the report aim to prevent the devastating effects of food waste on the environment, to save businesses and government money, and to help get wholesome food that would otherwise be wasted to those in need. Yet, the bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee includes only one of our recommendations: the creation of a Food Loss and Waste Liaison in the USDA.

Included in Title XI of the draft bill, the Food Loss and Waste Reduction Liaison’s job will be to “coordinate Federal programs to measure and reduce the incidence of food loss and waste.” More specifically, the Liaison’s duties include coordinating efforts between the USDA, the EPA, and the FDA, all of whom play vital but differing roles in food waste prevention; supporting and promoting federal programs to measure and reduce food waste and increase food recovery; serving as a resource for food waste and food recovery organizations; raising awareness of existing liability protections for food donation (which is, notably, another of FLPC’s recommendations); and making recommendations for expanding food recovery and waste reduction efforts.

It is an ambitious job description, but the creation of the Food Loss and Waste Reduction Liaison position within USDA is a concrete, laudable step by the federal government against food waste, and we applaud the inclusion of this new role in the draft bill. The inclusion of the Liaison position suggests that the federal government will continue to consider and prioritize food waste reduction in years to come. 

However, other low-cost and easy-to-implement food waste solutions went overlooked in this proposed farm bill, even those that promise to have a high impact on waste reduction. The top low-cost solutions recommended by FLPC but absent in the 2018 proposed Farm Bill include standardizing date labels on food products in order to reduce consumer confusion, and strengthening the liability protections in the Bill Emerson Food Donation Act. Other top priority recommendations include funding for food recovery infrastructure and for states and localities to implement zero waste plans or organic waste diversion laws. Each of these are described briefly below.  

Date labels

Inconsistent and confusing date labels in the U.S. contribute to massive amounts of waste. Date labels on food generally are not based on safety but rather on manufacturer estimates of quality, and at this time there are no federal regulations to ensure consistency in date labels. Confusion about what date labels actually mean leads consumers and businesses to throw away millions of pounds of perfectly safe, wholesome food. FLPC recommends that Congress, in the farm bill, standardize date labels by offering manufacturers two phrases to choose from for expiration date labels: “BEST If Used By” to indicate quality and “USE By” for foods that may have a safety risk after the date. Standardizing expiration date labels in this manner is a low-cost solution to consumer food waste, and would build on a voluntary industry initiative launched last year utilizing the same two phrases.

Liability protection for donated foods

In addition to standardizing date labels, the 2018 Farm Bill should strengthen and clarify the liability protections afforded to food donors by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. The Emerson Act provides civil and criminal liability protection to food donors and nonprofits that distribute food donations; by relieving donor concerns about potential liability, this can make them more likely to donate. However, many potential donors still say the reason they fail to donate is due to lack of knowledge about liability protections. Congress should task USDA with clarifying the scope of the Emerson Act, which is one of the roles of the proposed Food Loss and Waste Liaison in the draft farm bill. Further, the Emerson Act should be expanded to include further liability protections that match today’s food donation needs, including: reducing unnecessary labeling requirements for donated food; clarifying protection for past-date food donations; protecting donors that donate directly to final recipients; and providing protection when nonprofit recovery organizations charge the final recipient a low price.

Funding for food recovery infrastructure and for state and local waste diversion laws

Beyond these low-cost solutions, FLPC also recommends allocating further funding in the farm bill to initiatives that have been shown to be effective in reducing waste, creating jobs, and diverting wholesome food to those who need it. For example, the farm bill could support new food recovery infrastructure to help farmers and food recovery organizations prepare, process, and transport surplus produce to people in need. Another key recommendation is to provide funding to states and municipalities to implement zero waste plans and waste diversion laws. These plans are most effectively enacted at the state and local level, but can be costly to implement. Federal funding could support state and municipal planning and implementation of organic waste recycling plans, accelerating food waste reduction while building recycling infrastructure and creating jobs in food recovery and organics recycling. The most recent version of the 2018 Farm Bill does not include funding for such initiatives, missing an opportunity to further prioritize food waste.

The House Agriculture Committee has signaled commendable intent to tackle food waste with the creation of the Food Waste and Loss Reduction Liaison. However, if the U.S. hopes in earnest to meet food waste reduction goal by 2030, this step is not enough. We cannot wait for another Farm Bill to initiate meaningful food waste reduction efforts. Amidst heated controversy over some of the Farm Bill’s notoriously expensive provisions, low-cost policies to reduce food waste should be low hanging fruit. Those policies outlined above would go a long way towards ensuring more safe, wholesome food makes it to those in need and stays out of the landfill. Although this draft bill takes a step in the right direction, we hoped to see more, and will continue to work with members of Congress to understand the importance of food waste reduction and these key ways that the farm bill can make a difference in this fight.


Grocery Stores Could Be Donating Way More Food

Published on April 12th, 2018 by New Food Economy. Written by Jessica Fu.

Grocery stores could be donating way more of the food they don’t sell. What’s stopping them? A patchwork of inconsistent and unclear food safety laws.

A new report conducted by researchers at the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic has found that very few states give businesses any instruction on how to donate food safely. Confusion reigns supreme over everything from how to transport donations, to whether food needs to be kept cold, to interpreting best-by dates. Bottom line: Businesses get very little official or consistent guidance and ultimately, are discouraged from donating at all.

Emily Broad Leib, director of the clinic and the study’s lead author, wanted to find out exactly where companies were getting hung up.

“We kept hearing from businesses that they weren’t allowed to donate certain things, or being told that they had to follow really strict rules. Sometimes there’d be a business that said different parts of the country or even different cities in the same state have different rules.”

Broad Leib’s team interviewed food regulators in every state. They found that only 12 states have formal regulations for food donations, six of which pertain only to wild game meat.

Regulators want to make food laws more robust. They just don’t know how.

For example, in Connecticut, rules regarding the donation of wild game are codified in Title 26 of the Connecticut General Statutes, which govern fishing and hunting: “Hunted game may be donated to, and possessed, prepared and distributed by, a charitable or nonprofit organization which serves or distributes food without cost to poor or needy persons.” There is no additional guidance on what to do with food other than game meat.

Meanwhile, in California, there are no legal regulations regarding food donations. However, businesses can find general guidance from the Safe Surplus Food Donation Toolkit, a set of recommendations by three California-based public and environmental health groups.

Most other states offer nothing in the form of regulation or guidance at all.

But don’t write an angry letter to your governor just yet. The researchers also found that regulators want to make food laws more robust. They just don’t know how.

“Often, health inspectors themselves are afraid to allow certain practices without having anyone telling them that that’s a safe practice,” said Broad Leib.

As it turns out, businesses aren’t alone. The confusion may actually start a little further upstream.

Very few states give businesses any instruction on how to donate food safely. Confusion reigns supreme.

While states have jurisdiction over food safety and handling for retail businesses and restaurants, many of them model their guidelines off of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Code. This federal document is published every four years and offers states an example of what their food laws should look like. Local regulators adapt their own regulations from the code.

And therein lies the issue: The Food Code says nothing about food donations.

The dimensions of America’s food waste problem have been repeated ad nauseam: We waste up to 40 percent of our food (though, that number is disputed). And that’s particularly troubling given that 13.4 percent of our population is food insecure, according to the non-profit food bank network Feeding America. That includes more than 13 million children living in families who regularly don’t get enough to eat.

Could adding clear guidance to the Food Code on how companies can donate food safely really do much to change that? Broad Leib thinks so.

“When things are added to the Food Code, they make their way into state and local law,” she says. “We spoke to at least one head of food safety in every state. Across the board, they said that having some guidance would be helpful for them in order to provide better guidance and regulations for business.”

But, Broad Leib says, we also have to make sure states understand what role they’re playing in the food waste dilemma.

“Even if this were added, there’s still more work to do on educating states on why they should adopt that.”