California assemblywomen wants to make food labels more clear to customers

Phillip Palmer Image
Friday, July 21, 2023
CA assemblywoman wants to make food labels more clear to customers
Many food labels don't tell you when a product actually has to be thrown out. One California assemblywoman wants to change that.

SACRAMENTO (KABC) -- No one wants to buy food only to throw it away, but consumers need the proper information to know how long their food will last.

"Right now there are all kinds of phrases that we find on our food like best by, expires on or sell by or enjoy by or best before and all these other variations and they mean different things," said Jenn Engstrom, the Education Fund State Director of CALPIRG.

Legislation has been introduced in Sacramento by Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin that would make California the first state in the country to have a law mandating the use of the terms "best if used by" to indicate quality and "use by" to indicate the safety of a product. The hope is to eliminate the confusion on food labeling and reduce food waste.

"These are agreed upon labels and they have been so since 2017. It's just that there's always some excuse, 'Oh it's going to be tough in all these other states,' well, they're doing what they want in other states. Nobody wants to change anything and they come up with all sorts of excuses. Which, I buy none of them," said Irwin.

The average American will spend $1,300 a year on food that is thrown away. Some 50 different phrases can be found on food products nationwide, and in some cases only a date is given, no other guidance.

When you see "sell by," that's actually information for the retailer, not the consumer.

"The grocery stores are saying 'Well, we can't figure out, we need to have 'sell by' so we know when to remove it from the shelf.' But food could be good one day after sell by, it could be good six months after sell by, nobody knows," said Irwin.

Having labels that are actually useful to the consumer will allow people to save money by keeping their food longer, and consuming it reduces food waste that generates methane in landfills.

For now though, the measure has stalled in Sacramento, but the hope is it will pass early next year and motivate the federal government to create a consistent national standard.

"Those having to make these changes, they don't want to have to do it differently for different stores across the country, but again... if we can get California to lead then we can get other places to follow, and that's really how we should be thinking about it rather than just waiting and having more consumers lose money in the meantime," said Engstrom, who supports the legislation.