Standardizing Food Labels To Avoid Waste

Food waste is a staggering problem.  Researchers estimate that Americans waste 133 billion pounds of food each year. Globally, we waste or lose 1.3 billion tons of food annually. The economic costs are significant: the typical American family spends about $1,500 on food that they throw away, adding up to billions of dollars of waste.

Environmentally, it’s also a huge contributor to climate change.  Analysts have documented that food waste leads to 3.3 gigatons [billion tons] of CO2 equivalent emissions, making it the third top emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China.

One relatively straightforward solution is for the food industry to standardize food labeling.  Fortunately, an industry group has agreed to tackle the problem, per NPR.  The Consumer Goods Forum is a network of 400 of the largest food and consumer goods companies around the globe (including Walmart, Kellogg, Nestle, Campbell Soup, and Amazon), with a plan to harmonize labels:

These are the two standard phrases that you can expect to see on food packages in the future: “BEST if Used By,” which describes the quality of a food product. This term is meant to convey that “the product may not taste or perform” its best after the specified date, “but it is safe to use or consume,” explains the Food Marketing Institute in this release.

The second term is “Use By,” which applies to highly perishable products. “These products should be consumed by the date listed on the package – and disposed of after that date,” explains the FMI.

This is an important step that will hopefully give consumers more guidance about when to throw out food or not.  We’ll still need to tackle other parts of the problem, such as minimizing waste in the fields and at markets, but consumer education is a big need.

If you’d like to hear more about how to reduce food waste, check out this City Visions discussion I hosted in August on KALW FM 91.7.


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