An increased focus on food waste and nutrition in the United States has led to a variety of regulations being passed down from the government calling for more informational labeling. While many operators support the proposed changes, the ins and outs of what exactly is being required can be confusing.
Here are five essential points to remember when addressing these concerns in your operation.
1. Menu labeling for foodservice is right around the corner
This coming May, the Food and Drug Administration's federal menu labeling requirements—which call for restaurants and food service establishments with 20 or more locations to provide calorie information to guests—are set to take effect.
“All of Metz Culinary Management’s ‘Up For Grabs’ (grab and go) items will be properly labeled and include item name, price, prep and expiration date, nutrition facts, ingredients and allergens,” says Brian Bachman, vice president of purchasing at Metz Culinary Management. “Metz Culinary Management has partnered with DayMark Safety Systems and their labeling machine to meet the needs of these upcoming federal regulations.”
2. Current date labeling is confusing
In addition to the FDA’s new menu requirements, another labeling issue is beginning to garner attention: expiration dates vs. freshness dates.
Imagine a scenario where you take the milk out of the refrigerator, ready to pour it onto your bowl of cereal, when you notice that yesterday’s date appears on the milk jug. You pour the milk down the drain, and with that, your breakfast—and your entire morning—is ruined. But does it have to be?
According to a 2013 study co-authored by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, approximately $165 billion worth of food is wasted each year by consumers who do not fully understand the meaning of the dates that are printed on food packaging. The problem stems from a date-marking system that is unclear, as 90% of consumers assume that a date printed on a food package represents the date that the item expires—which is not always the case.
3. The USDA recommends clearer language
Starting this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS) will take steps to help resolve consumer confusion regarding such terms as “best by” and “sell by,” labels found on food products we select every day.
The new term the FSIS recommends is “best if used by.” Research indicates consumers better understand this term as an indicator of food quality and safety and will lead to a reduction in food waste.
4. The government is stepping in to alleviate confusion
Legislation introduced into both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate is seeking to further ease Americans' confusion about whether or not their food is safe.
The Food Date Labeling Act of 2016 aims to clarify the rules for dates on food by using a standardized phrasing system. Under this act, all food items would be required to show two dates: one to show when food is at its highest quality, and the other to show when it has expired. Any packaged food that carries a date with regard to freshness or expiration would be affected by the law, if passed.
Supporters say confusion over the nation's current date labeling policies accounts for approximately $29 billion of consumer waste of safe, edible food.
The bills also call for consumer education on the matter, in order to ensure a proper understanding of the new labeling system.
5. Foodservice stands to benefit—and kitchen automation can help
The legislation also is expected to aid those in the food service industry. “Restaurants will benefit the same as consumers,” according to Jill Carte, category manager of food safety at DayMark. “Food costs could potentially be driven down by the more accurate labeling, which will reduce the amount of waste. Any growing pains foodservice establishments could suffer would be minimized, since restaurants have been using date labeling for years, so they already have an understanding of the concept.”
The DayMark 9700 and the DayMark PRO label terminals allow operators to quickly adapt to any new requirements by taking the guesswork out of predicting future changes. This, in turn, enables them to focus on their menus and guests.
The terminals provide operators the freedom to manage the necessary data included on grab-and-go items—be it expiration/freshness dates, nutritional information, or any other pertinent information—with the same agility as the rest of their business. More important, after a change is implemented, there are no old labels to be discarded.
“As support for the bills has been overwhelming,” Carte adds, “food service operators should begin preparing for change now.”