For example, according to a January 2015 report on CNN, more than 500,000 food production and processing companies operate in China, and more than 70 percent of them have fewer than 10 employees. This makes it almost impossible to investigate all of these companies and ensure that the food is being prepared, processed, and handled properly. The labeling provided on many of these food items is often limited or incorrect. In fact, according to the CNN report, the quality control specialist AsiaInspection found that “48 percent of the ‘several thousand’ inspections, audits, and tests it conducted in China [in 2014] failed to meet the requirements stipulated by some of its clients”—many of which are Western food companies and retailers, such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, KFC, and Pizza Hut.
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Sustainability and Cost Savings
In the U.S. and many parts of the Western world, there is growing concern about how much food is being wasted. Waste can no longer stand as the status quo in the 21st century, whether it applies to natural resources, water, or food. Steps are evolving to specifically address the issue of food waste.
It is estimated that more than $161 billion worth of food is simply tossed away every year in the U.S. There have been some strategies developed in various American communities to address this waste of food, mainly in the form of donating unsold food from grocery stores to charities. However, to make a real dent in this huge amount of waste, much more has to be done on a national scale.
In the realm of food donation, Europe has taken a number of steps. In France, for instance, laws have been passed requiring grocery stores to donate unsold food items to various charities, while Italy and Germany now have tax incentives to encourage retailers, restaurants, and other businesses to donate food.
Germany has set a goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2025. One not-for-profit restaurant there hopes to raise awareness of food waste by making dishes out of “rejected food items.” Many of these rejected food items are rejected because they no longer look fresh enough for some retailers to market. However, in most cases, the food is perfectly edible.
In the U.S., it appears that one of the biggest reasons that so much food is wasted is not because the food doesn’t look as fresh as retailers would like but because the date on the food label confuses or, in some cases, misinforms the consumer. Even grocery store workers admit that these dates cause them confusion.
To be clear, the problem is not with an expiration date. Instead, it is phrases such as “sell by,” “best by,” or “use by” that cause the most confusion.
These phrases, says Dana Gunders, senior scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council, are “in need of some serious myth-busting because they’re leading us to waste money and throw out perfectly good food, along with all of the resources that went into growing it. [They] are poorly regulated and misinterpreted and lead to a false confidence in food safety.”
What these terms often refer to has nothing to do with the actual shelf life of the product or when the food item should no longer be marketed or sold. Instead, these printed dates often represent the food item’s peak freshness.
However, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is now taking steps to address this confusion, hoping to reduce food waste and benefit the entire food manufacturing and processing industry by having standard terminology. FSIS was recently accepting comments about these proposed changes until mid-February. According to FSIS research, the phrase “best if used by” causes less confusion, and consumers view this phrase as an indicator of food quality rather than food safety.