The report finds fault with the lack of binding federal standards and wide variability in state and local labeling rules.
The authors said the current “convoluted system” results in confusion and food waste, since consumers think the label reflects the food’s microbial safety. Labels also bog down redistribution efforts by making the handling of pastdate foods “administratively and legally complex.”
The NRDC recommends steps to standardize and clarify the food date labeling system across the U.S., including:
- Make “sell by” dates invisible to the consumer
- Establish a reliable, coherent, and uniform consumer-facing dating system: and
- Increase the use of safe handling instructions and “smart” labels
The NRDC gamely attempts to wrap up the problem in one fell swoop of prescribed solutions, and the goal of establishing a “reliable, coherent and uniform consumer-facing dating system” seems overly ambitious. Perhaps the PTI label could inform the consumer about product freshness, though most consumers use the eye and nose test to determine the fate of fruits and vegetables.
There is no question the industry - and consumers - can do better in the quest to reduce food waste. Recent USDA statistics on loss-adjusted availability (counting non-edible share of produce as loss) for fruits and vegetables show that 53% of fresh vegetables and 63% of fruits are lost somewhere in the supply chain.
Just as sustainability measures should not be contrived or forced, the motivation to reduce fruit and vegetable waste in the supply chain should be based on simple economic motivation, enlightened self-interest. Do this, and make more money. You have black bananas? Make banana bread.
So far, the invisible hand of the market is not providing enough answers and incentives to reduce food waste.