Governor Brown Signs Bill to End Expiration Date Confusion

SACRAMENTO – Governor Brown has signed AB 954, by Assembly Member David Chiu, into law, a bill which will promote the widespread use of standard phrases for food date labels in order to provide more clarity to consumers on the shelf life of their food. Misinterpretation of food date labels is a key factor leading to food waste in American households and supermarkets.

“Every day we open our refrigerators and wonder what the dates on our food mean,” said author of AB 954, Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco). “In a state where 6 million families are food insecure, a startling amount of food is being wasted every single day because of arbitrary date labels. Consumers deserve to know what our labels mean and whether or not our food is safe to eat. This bill mirrors industry best practices and moves us closer to uniform date labels, which will reduce unnecessary food waste.”

Date labels on food come in a countless variety, some common phrases include, “sell by”, “enjoy by”, “best by”, and “best before”. AB 954 simplifies date labels by promoting two standard types of phrases, “BEST if Used by” or “BEST if Used or Frozen by” to indicate peak freshness, and “USE by” or “USE or Freeze by” to indicate food safety. The use of “Sell by” date labels that are visible to consumers will also be discouraged, due to the fact that these date labels are only meant for stock rotation but are often mistaken as an indication of food safety. The new law also provides consumer education, which is a key component that will result in a more complete understanding of food date labels among the public.

“Many cautious consumers see these dates and toss out perfectly healthy and wholesome food just because it is past "the date" on the package,” said Nick Lapis, Director of Advocacy at Californians Against Waste. “Promoting consistent terminology for date labels will give consumers confidence that they’re food is safe to eat and may not need to be thrown out.”

Earlier this week, Governor Brown has also signed another piece of legislation that compliments AB 954 in the effort to reduce food waste. AB 1219, the California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), strengthens and expands on existing liability protections for food donors in order to make more food available to food insecure Californians, and ensure that less edible food is sent to landfills.

Californians Against Waste sponsored AB 954 and co-sponsored AB 1219 with the California Association of Food Banks.