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The Ongoing Saga of Food Waste in Grocery: Standardized Food Date Labeling and Dynamic Pricing Could Save the Day

Posted on - August 22, 2017

We’ve all been there as consumers. Many of the labels on food products include verbiage such as “sell by,” use by,” and “expires on” – confusing us and often leaving us no choice but to toss out perfectly safe food for fear we might be endangering our families with spoiled food. To combat this, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree have recently introduced the Food Date Labeling Act that will standardize food date labeling in the US.

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The proposed legislation establishes a uniform national date labeling system to reduce said confusion, simplify regulatory compliance for companies, and reduce the waste of food and money.

According to Senator Blumenthal, “Before taking a swig of milk, many Americans glance quickly at the date label and toss it away, without realizing that it still may be perfectly safe to consume. Items at the grocery store are stamped with a jumble of arbitrary food date labels that are not based on safety or science. This dizzying patchwork confuses consumers, results in food waste, and prevents good food from being donated to those who need it most.”

It is hoped that this proposed national date labeling system will educate consumers about the meaning of new labels and give them clarity on the actual expiration date of the food in their homes. A standardized system will also help consumers save money on their weekly or monthly grocery bills.

The Right Price at the Right Time

While advocates are working to resolve the issue of food waste at the federal level is, many states have already taken action to reduce their own amounts of food waste. According to research from Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, 20 states and Washington, D.C. have introduced over 80 unique bills to cut food waste in 2017 alone. As well, dozens of grocery retailers have also taken steps, with the help of technology, to eliminate food waste in their stores while also improving sales and margins.

One such technology, dynamic pricing using electronic shelf labels, allows grocery retailers to strategically price perishable items throughout the day, encouraging shoppers to purchase those items before they spoil. By having the freedom to remotely changes prices on any shelf in seconds, retailers can graduate pricing based on sales velocity and inventory levels to ensure they reduce waste by the end of the business day. What’s more, huge savings are made in paper and ink when replacing paper labels with electronic ones – not to mention the environmental impact of eliminating paper at the shelf edge.

Time will only tell how and when legislation for the Food Date Labeling Act will be finalized. The good news is that there is technology available, right now, to help shoppers make better decisions at the shelf edge and to help grocery retailers start chipping away at their food waste. After all, according to Dana Guners with the Natural Resources Defense Council, “The more food we keep out of the trash, the more trashed money, water, energy and climate pollution we can avoid. From farmers to parents, school children, and those in need—wasting less food helps everyone.”