Food safety or food waste: Market food safety at retail

I hate wasting food.

And I get frustrated making lunch for the kid and the wife.

Not so much the wife, but the 8-year-old drives me crazy when she com home after school, has hardly eaten anything that we packed together, and says she’s hungry.

I tell her to make what she wants.

Tough house.

Jennifer McClellan of USA Today writes that Americans don’t set out to waste food (just like they don’t set out to shoot people).

People don’t buy an apple because they plan to throw it away. Instagram isn’t filled

A handful of scholars wanted to find the answer. They conducted studies and found, in essence, that Americans waste food because we don’t know another way, and because we can. 

The first study to look at U.S. consumers’ attitudes about food waste came out of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future in June 2015. One revelation was that having a leaky faucet or leaving lights on bothered people more than throwing away food did. But the gas created by food decay in landfills is a major environmental threat.

The second study, out of Ohio State University in 2016, found that a majority of Americans think food waste is a problem, but find it difficult to reduce their own waste. Indeed, a quarter of respondents said they’re too busy to change.

It’s not all bad, though. There’s hope for us yet.

Americans are “concerned about wasted food, and are interested in taking further action,” the Johns Hopkins study said.

Americans are conditioned to seek out the freshest, most nutritious food.

Grocery stores stock only the most beautiful fruits and vegetables on displays that give the feeling of abundance. And why not? The produce department has some of the biggest profit margins in a grocery store (tell that to the farmers).

Americans think they waste less than their neighbors.

More than 70 percent of people in the Johns Hopkins study and more than 85 percent in the Ohio State study said they toss fewer foods than others do.

Americans would rather be safe than sorry.

Sixty-five percent of people in the Ohio State study said they discarded food because they worry about food poisoning. Of those respondents, 91 percent said they pay attention to date labels on food.

People think older food and food that’s past its date will make them sick.

But more often than not those dates refer to quality, not safety. And most food-borne illness is caused by contamination along the supply line or improper food handling, not from expired food.

Food-date labeling is confusing at best. What do “use by,” “sell by” and “best before” mean anyway? Probably not “poisonous after.”

Infant formula is the only food product with federal regulation for label dates. Everything else is left up to a patchwork of state and local laws.

In most states, the date printed on milk cartons is 21 to 28 days after pasteurization. In Montana, that date is 12 days after pasteurization. When that date passes, retailers are not allowed to sell or donate the milk. Opponents of that law say it has led to an untold amount of milk poured down the drain and has caused milk prices to increase.

The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic examined Montana’s law in a documentary called “Expired? Food Waste in America.” They pointed out that since milk is pasteurized, which removes potential contaminants, it’s unlikely to make you sick if it’s spoiled. 

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) introduced the Food Date Labeling Act of 2016, which called for federal standardization of date labeling. It died in committee.

Late last year, the USDA released guidance for the food industry to adopt the phrase “Best If Used By” on date labels.

This year, two of the biggest trade groups in the grocery industry encouraged manufacturers to voluntarily adopt two standard phrases. The Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association urge producers to label food with “Use By” if it’s a highly perishable item for which there is a food-safety concern. Otherwise, food should be marked with a “Best If Used By” date to describe product quality, not safety.

Essentially, the complications around date labeling come back to affordability. Most Americans can afford the “extra layer of safety” of basing their actions on a date label while those with tighter budgets “look at a label twice, sniff three times and then make a decision,” said Roe, co-author of the Ohio State University study.

How we can change

Market food safety at retail.

And then all this shit goes away.