Food waste is sickening. The amount of safe and nutritious food that is wasted each year in the United States is astonishing: An estimated 40 percent of the U.S. food supply is never consumed. Yet, approximately 49 million Americans are suffering from hunger. Instead of using this excess food to feed the hungry, most of this food waste ends up in the trash. This sight is nauseating — billions of pounds of food rotting in U.S. landfills while approximately one in seven Americans are food insecure.

Food safety concerns are some of the many factors that contribute to the large amount of food waste in the U.S. There is a widespread misconception that some food products cannot or should not be recovered due to food safety concerns. This has resulted in businesses throwing out food that is still perfectly good and safe to eat. For example, a large number of food products are thrown into landfills that are mislabeled, even though they are still safe for human consumption. Some of this food could be diverted from the landfill by simply relabeling the product to declare an ingredient originally omitted. Other product labels may create a false sense of concern that the product is no longer safe. A new, clearer label could prevent food from going to waste.

To address these concerns, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced two new policies in 2016 to help businesses and consumers reduce food waste. The first policy action was the issuance of FSIS Directive 7020.1, which created a new and simpler relabeling process for businesses that want to donate food products that have minor labeling errors. The other step taken by FSIS was the issuance of a new guidance document  that suggests manufacturers use standard and consistent language for date labels to reduce consumer confusion and food waste that is a result of this confusion. These new policies apply to all meat, poultry, and some egg products in the U.S.

FSIS Directive 7020.1 makes the relabeling process easier for businesses who want to donate recalled products. Prior to this new policy, food products regulated by FSIS had to follow a re-approval labeling process before the product could be donated. In addition, that product had to be plainly marked “Not for Sale.” Businesses were discovering approval could take anywhere from 60-90 days, resulting in a lengthy process, which took up a large amount of storage space.  The re-labeling application process required time and labor. It was also costly for businesses to pay their employees to re-label and stamp “Not for Sale” on each product. Overall, the costs of donating the products were not feasible for businesses.

Now, under FSIS Directive 7020.1, businesses can donate certain mislabeled products without worrying about the costs associated with the re-labeling process. Under the directive, economically adulterated or misbranded meat and poultry products can be donated “as is” without applying for temporary label approval and without adding the “Not for Sale” statement on each package. The only requirement is that there is a bill of lading that describes the quantity and description of the donated item, the reason the product was recalled, and a statement that the product is not for sale, which accompanies the donated product. However, the temporary label approval and “Not for Sale” package statement are still both required if the product is misbranded because it did not include an ingredient of public health concern: Wheat, fish and shellfish, eggs, peanuts, dairy, tree nuts, or soybeans or “[i]ngredients that may cause food intolerance, such as sulfur-based preservatives (sulfites), lactose, Yellow 5 (tartrazine), gluten, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).”  Also, the donated product is still required to be inspected by officials before it is shipped to the nonprofit organization.

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