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Industry Groups Team Up to Combat Food Waste

Expiration dates are a challenge for food banks. With four different ways to determine if food is safe to eat or not, even the most careful sorting and consumer education can leave a client with food they aren’t sure they can eat. The nation’s two leading manufacturing groups, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association teamed up to simplify the process. “Best if used by” will communicate quality, where the product is still safe to consume after the date. “Use by” will communicate that a product is highly perishable and has food safety concerns over time. The voluntary adoption comes after the USDA’s action in December to clarify labeling on eggs, meat, and dairy items.

“These guidelines will take time to stick with grocery shoppers, but eventually it should increase the quality of food donations to food banks,” says Steve Linkhart, Farm to Family director at California Association of Food Banks. “Unfortunately, many donors use food drives, especially canned food drives, to clean out their pantry. Under the current labeling system, it is extremely hard to determine the shelf-life of a product like soup.”

Linkhart experienced this sorting headache while heading operations at Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano in Concord. His team there created a comprehensive training program for volunteer sorters, but even with diligent sorting, his clients would complain about receiving “bad” food.

“Millions of Americans are tossing perfectly good food in the trash because they think it’s not safe to eat after the date on the package. This is a critical step toward clearing up the confusion and stopping all of that food, money, water and energy from going to waste,” says Dana Gunders, food waste expert at NRDC, a group who partnered with the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association to create the new rules.

For more information, please visit the Food Marketing Institute's website.

Photo by Dean Hochman