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California's 'Best Use By' Act

Recently, California introduced legislation (AB 660) to clearly mark food shelf life. The bill includes the deletion of the 'sell by' notation on current food labels. Instead, food manufacturers are required to list either 'best if used by' or 'use by' as the expiration date. If the bill passes Congress and is signed by the Governor, it will take effect on January 1, 2025.

Representative Irwin, who initiated the bill, pointed out that the current food shelf life is centered on producers, not consumers. The current sell-by date only tells the grocery store how long to handle the product, but it is meaningless to consumers, so it is necessary to mark the expiration date properly to minimize food waste, Irwin argued.

Meanwhile, in May 2019, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cited the results of a consumer survey and suggested best if used by as the clearest way to mark the expiration date. At the time, the FDA said, “The key to the date marked on the expiration date is quality, not safety.” As long as it is stored properly, it does not need to be discarded even after the date has passed, but due to confusion in labeling, even safe foods are being thrown away at random. According to the FDA, about 20% of food in the United States is thrown away due to confusion about expiration dates.

Consumers are confused by the current situation. Statements suggesting an expiration date do not actually mean that the food is no longer safe to eat. Other dates, such as "sell by" dates, are only meant to help stores determine when to rotate inventory. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says most foods are safe after that date, unless spoilage is evident.

Because of the lack of clarity about the meaning of these dates, many consumers mostly discard them when in doubt. About 20% of food waste generated by households in the United States is expired food. The USDA (US Department of Agriculture) estimates that more than one-third of the US food supply is wasted. That's enough to feed every hungry and food insecure country, and 43% of this waste comes from households. This means that the average American consumer spends about $1,300 a year on food that ultimately goes to waste.

All this waste comes at a cost in other ways as well. Food dumped in landfills releases methane as it decomposes. Methane, the greenhouse gas that promotes global warming, is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in a short period of time. Therefore, reducing food waste and resulting methane emissions is the most effective means for most individuals to combat climate change.

American consumers are also suffering from the current recession and inflation. I think it is a bill that protects the environment while reducing discarded food and reflects the burdensome price of shopping carts for consumers. Food companies exporting to the United States will have to clarify the labeling method according to the decision of the Act.

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