Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
You may have done this before: You’re reading the date label on a food package. The date was last week or last month. Is it still good? You’re unsure, so you throw it out.
Unwittingly, you have just contributed to the nation’s food waste crisis. But you’re not alone. Between the food industry and consumers, Americans are throwing out about a third of our food — worth nearly $161 billion — each year. This waste affects our planet, communities, and wallets.
Best if used by
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes food waste is due, in part, to fears consumers have about food safety. Research indicates that when people throw out food, it’s often because they are confused by the introductory phrases used in product date labels, which appear on food packaging in a wide variety of ways that include terms like “use before” and “sell by.”
That’s why FDA supports efforts by the food industry to standardize voluntary date labeling and the use of the introductory phrase “best if used by” if the date is meant to describe quality, not safety, on date labeling. Studies have shown this best conveys that the date label is about optimal quality, and that products do not necessarily need to be discarded after that date.
Put to better use
Wasted food that ends up in municipal landfills could have been used by others, including families in need. It’s a waste of the water, energy, and labor used to produce that food. But standardizing date labeling is just a part of the solution. Making a significant impact will require the combined efforts of all levels of government, as well as the participation of the food industry, and environmental and community organizations.
To that end, FDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are collaborating under the terms of a formal agreement as part of the “Winning on Reducing Food Waste Initiative,” including working together to better educate consumers on how to reduce food waste, and how to do it safely.
This collaboration includes consistent, standardized messaging about what food product dating means. It includes teaming up with state, tribal, and local governments, and supporting businesses and organizations that have made a commitment to reduce food loss and waste in their own operations.
The Food Waste and Loss page on fda.gov includes information on reducing food waste and communications from all three agencies. The U.S. government established a national goal of reducing food loss and waste by 50 percent by 2030.
Whether it’s in the kitchen at home, at a restaurant, or in a grocery store, decisions are made every day that affect the amount of food wasted in this country. The FDA and its federal partners are committed to providing the resources needed to support safe and sound decisions; ones that are good for our families and our communities.
Reducing food waste is a shared responsibility. Together, we can make a difference. Food is simply too important to waste.
Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), [email protected]