Maxwell Youtie and Jacob Sokol Proposal on Food Hunger and Insecurity: Food Expiration Standards

Context

Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

Michigan Food Law (Act 92)

“An act to codify the licensure and regulation of certain persons engaged in processing, manufacturing, production, packing, preparing, repacking, canning, preserving, freezing, fabricating, storing, selling, serving, or offering for sale food or drink for human consumption; to prescribe powers and duties of the department of agriculture and rural development; to provide for delegation of certain powers and duties to certain local units of government; to provide exemptions; to regulate the labeling, manufacture, distribution, and sale of food for protection of the consuming public and to prevent fraud and deception by prohibiting the misbranding, adulteration, manufacture, distribution, and sale of foods in violation of this act; to provide standards for food products and food establishments; to provide for immunity to certain persons under certain circumstances; to provide for enforcement of the act; to provide penalties and remedies for violation of the act; to provide for fees; to provide for promulgation of rules; and to repeal acts and parts of acts.”

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdard/FOOD_LAW_Eff_10-1-12_8-14-12_396680_7.pdf

More specifically (289.8107)

Definitions; prepackaged perishable food; date; prohibited sales; advertisement of food sold after date; alteration of date prohibited; calculation of date; exceptions.

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(kdz51xls0kklfue0yplaoz05))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-289-8107    

 

Proposed Legislation in other States:

California Assembly Bill 2725

“This bill would, among other things, require the department to identify a list of ready-to-eat foods that have a high level of risk associated with consumption after a specified date and to post that list on its Internet Web site. The bill would, beginning July 1, 2017, require a food manufacturer or retail food facility that chooses to include a quality date, as defined, on foods for sale that are not identified on the department’s list to display that date using the phrase “best if used by” in 8-point type size or larger type, as specified”

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB2725

Federal Food Date Labeling Act

“This bill establishes requirements that: (1) address food waste that occurs when people throw out fresh food because of their confusion over the meaning of expiration dates on food labels and whether or not the food is still safe to eat, and (2) standardize quality date and safety date food labels. Producers, manufacturers, distributors, or retailers that place a date label on food packaging of a product (food labelers) must use the phrases "best if used by" to indicate food quality and the phrase "expires on" to warn of food that may be unsafe to eat after a specified date. While labelers may voluntarily choose to include a quality date on packaging, they must include a safety date on ready-to-eat products.”

https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/5298/text

 

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

All Students:

Students are constantly on a budget and do not have time to constantly be shopping for food. If food dates are extended, students will be able to have food last longer. This will save both money and time. For the average Michigan student who takes on over $30,000 in student loans debt, this will be a massive benefit to them. Also students food drives, which happen on every school level, will benefit from larger donations. This will be largely attributed to students donating food that is between its newly introduced “best by” and “expiration” dates.

Low Income and Food Insecure:

Young students are dependent on their parents to provide food for them during their development. Many children grow up in low income households that have a limited budget towards food expenses. This leads to students being food insecure and not regularly having enough food to eat. In fact, 13 million children are food insecure in the United States alone. The introduction of new food labeling standards will lead to families wasting less food due to food expiration confusion. Most importantly though, food products will be sold at a discount more often. When products are in between there “best by” and “expiration” dates, supermarkets will most likely offer price reductions due to a decrease in product quality. This will provide huge benefits to low income families who will be able to get more food on their limited budgets.

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

Growing up in Miami, Florida where “approximately 949,910 people in Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from”, we have always seen food insecurity as a major issue. While hypothesising topic proposals and going to town halls, we learned that over 1.5 million people in the state of Michigan are dealing with hunger issues. Then through further research, we realized that food is constantly being thrown out due to the lack of food and nutrition education by consumers.  Finally during our volunteer work at Food Gatherers, we learned that one of these gaps in education related to food expiration labeling.

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

As stated above, both of us spend all of our volunteer hours at Food Gatherers. Here we sorted, delivered, and peeled all types of fresh vegetables and prepackaged items. While we sorted all of the donated food, we learned that almost all food can be eaten past its expiration date. This led us to inquire more information about our new discovery. First we spoke to Kareena Garrett, manager of volunteer programs, about how Food Gatherers works with local food banks and other charities to supply food to the food insecure. Then John Reed, director of warehouse operations, explained to us the process of working with the government to figure out extensions on food expiration labels. Both of these employees as well as everyone else we spoke to at Food Gatherers wearhouse and kitchen were very insightful into the problems with food labeling. Our service work assisted us in gaining a lot of important information and really helped us develop our proposal.

 

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

Maxwell and Jacob Podcast 

Consultations

CONSULTATION 1: Director of Warehouse Operations at Food Gatherers, John Reed

We spoke with John Reed, who is in charge of the Warehouse at Food Gatherers, to give us more insight into how an organization like Food Gatherers works with the Government to decide how long expiration dates can be extended. He informed us of the difference in dates between “Time and Temperature Controlled Foods” (TCF) and “Non-perishable Foods”.

TCF foods are required to have dates and can only be extended by one day. He discussed how some of these foods should be able to be extended longer, but because the foods come from many different sources they have to go with the lowest common denominator. He explained the frustrations with knowing a product may have a week left before it expires because 10 brands might have that expiration date, but if one brand does not, he can’t extend the foods all the way.

Non-Perishable foods, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, can usually be extended by one to two weeks beyond its “best by” date. They use the USDA consumer guidance for shelf life, which is really just an generalization on how long certain types of food can last.

Finally, when we asked him what would be helpful for Food Gatherers, he spoke about more transparency with the food producers so consumers and food banks would have specific information about true expiration date. This would alleviate a good amount of frustrations that Food Gatherers and food banks like it have to go through on a daily basis.

CONSULTATION 2: Food Safety Specialist for the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, Ken Settimo

We spoke with Mr. Settimo about Act 92 of 2000 (referred to above) and its creation. Though he was not with the state at the time, he spoke about the act taking many different forms and creating one comprehensive law. He explained informed us that prior to act 92 of 2000 there were several acts utilized by the division. These previous acts are still referenced in the Michigan Food Law under the history sections.  While some previous laws were no longer applicable others were compiled into act 92 of 2000.

We then asked him about the process of creating this law specifically. His responded as follows:

“When sections of the Michigan Food Law are updated a collaborative discussion is typical had between MDARD and other regulatory agencies, stakeholders, academia etc. While individual states have different rules and structure, research and reference to other state policies and agencies may be conducted in preliminary findings depending upon the topic.”

This made us feel that although the process may be difficult to get approved, it is definitely feasible. Finally, he said that food laws are constantly being updated within the State of Michigan, which again made us feel confident that if the right law is proposed, it will be approved.

CONSULTATION 3: Managing Partner at Zingerman’s Bakehouse, Amy Emberling

We spoke with Zingerman's in order to get an in depth look at a company who packages food and is required to put some sort of expiration date on their products. Zingermans uses a sell by date. The reason they do this, according to Amy, was so their customers can have a few days to take home and eat the food. She expressed that although the foods usually can last up to a week past the sell by date, most customers will not buy a product if it within a few days of that date. On a daily basis, she has to explain to nervous customers that it is just a date they put on the packaging in order to give a general time frame of when they should consume the product by.

When we suggested the idea of putting an “expiration” date as well as a “sell by” date, she was all for it. Amy thought that it would be great if “we all shared a common language”. She felt that if there was a clear definition and everyone abided by it, then everyone would be better off.

Prospectus:

Expiration Date Reform

Food waste is one of the biggest issues in the United States and is very significant in the state of Michigan. A 2012 Report by the Natural Resources Defense Council showed that Americans trash up to 40 percent of our food supply every year, equivalent to $165 billion. A large portion of this unacceptable activity is due to the fact that companies list their products by the “sell by day” instead of the actual expiration date. According to NPR “Companies use the labels to protect the reputation of their products – they want consumers to see and consume their food in as fresh a state as possible”. This selfish labeling practice leads to 91 percent of consumers then throwing away their food too early because of a “concern for food safety”. Surprisingly, there has been very little government intervention on this crucial issue. Almost every state, including Michigan, has no legal definition for what the “sell by” or “best by” day is supposed to be. According to Michigan State University “The only requirement issued by the Michigan Department of Agriculture is that “all packaged, perishable foods (those with a shelf life of less than 90 days) must be labeled with a recommended last day of sale consisting of the month and day.” We think it is time for food manufacturers and the Government of Michigan to start taking responsibility for all this wasted food. By creating guidelines that rely on food actually becoming toxic and unable to eat rather than just when it is “best by”; millions of dollars will be saved each year. More importantly, a new food labeling agenda will decrease the enormous amount of food wasted and help reduce food hunger throughout the state of Michigan.

https://foodtank.com/news/2016/11/schooling-food-waste-how-schools-can-teach-kids-to-value-food/

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/02/15/515427797/food-companies-may-say-goodbye-to-sell-by-labels

http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/americans_waste_almost_50_percent_of_food_produced

https://www.nrdc.org/media/2013/130918

Potential Solutions:

SOLUTION 1: Education

One of the most popular reasons why so much food gets wasted every year is purely due to lack of food education. This is specifically related to the lack of nutrition education in elementary, middle, and high schools. According to the National Center for Education, “with the exception of the Food Guide Pyramid, less than half of schools cover”  the full nutrition curriculum. This is why we believe the inclusion of food expiration information and improvements to health education as a whole would vastly reduce hunger and even obesity in the U.S. It might even make sense to have the parents come in to learn this crucial information as well. During the introduction of this new food curriculum, we think non profits like Food Gatherers should come in and teach students this new information. We believe this solution would be cheaper and receive less pushback than our other options.

https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/frss/publications/96852/

SOLUTION 2: Law

One way to ensure that companies change their labels would be to enact direct legislation for this issue. This solution would involve creating a law stating that companies must provide a “true” expiration date on their packaging. This date would be when their product “may get stale”, “go sour”, or “become hazardous”. In this solution, the common person would not even need to be educated about the extension of food labels because the actual labels would be “correct”.  The Grocery Manufacturers Association and The Food Marketing Institute are “now advising their members, which include most major food manufacturers and retailers, to abolish many current labels, including "Expires on" and "Sell by”. They are instead encouraging manufacturers to switch to “Best if used by” and “Use by” dates. Since these groups are already pushing there members toward putting more informative dates on their packaging, this law should be easier to initiate.

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/02/15/515427797/food-companies-may-say-goodbye-to-sell-by-labels

SOLUTION 3: Incentives

Sometimes when laws become too difficult to actually pass, the government provides economic incentives. Economic Incentives can include “tax abatements, tax revenue sharing, grants, infrastructure assistance, no or low-interest financing, free land, tax credits and other financial resources.” For this solution, we suggest the government provide tax break for companies that put a true expiration date on their products. This would mean that food manufacturers would have to put the date when their products become hazardous to eat instead of their current dates denoting the expiration of “peak quality”. We believe that many major companies would be willing to follow these suggested rules because it would provide them a major competitive advantage. This solution could also be a beginning step towards the eventual passage of a law requiring changes to food expiration dating.

http://theconversation.com/how-do-food-manufacturers-pick-those-dates-on-their-product-packaging-and-what-do-they-mean-60591

http://bakertilly.com/insights/why-do-governments-provide-incentives

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator: Justin Schulman:

Justin was very helpful and an important contributor in the development of our final proposal. His two most substantial pieces of advice were to “find impactful data” and “consider many different perspectives”. His suggestion related to data collection led to us creating our own polls. Through Qualtrics and the student caucus website, we were able to ask specific questions related to consumer opinions and experiences. The feedback we received from these surveys along with statistics from third party outlets allowed us to go in depth in all facets of our original proposal. Based on Justin’s advice, we then reached out to many different parties that would be affected by our proposed legislation. This diverse set of opinions that came from food manufacturers, government officials, hunger advocates, and average citizens precipitated major adjustments in the creation of our final proposal. These two crucial suggestions along with the rest of Justin’s tips were crucial in the development of our potential legislation.

Research process:

Our idea for this proposal initially stemmed from our volunteer work and through interacting with the caucus discussions. One of the very first discussions posted on the student caucus website was about food insecurity in the upper peninsula of Michigan by our very own topic coordinator Justin Schulman. This along with other topics posted under the child and youth hunger subject area got us thinking about ways to decrease food insecurity in Michigan, which was above the national average. Soon after this we visited Food Gatherers and our idea was born.

Our first volunteer shift was at 9 A.M. where we got the opportunity to sort donated food. Our job was to group food that was “ok” to eat and throw away “rotten” items. Initially we thought this would be simple, all we had to do was check if the food products were past their “expiration” dates.  It turned out that this was a very incorrect assumption though. Once we arrived in the Green Room we were given a laminated piece of paper that indicated how much longer certain food items lasted past there expiration dates. This is where we learned that foods could last days, months, or even years past when they were supposedly unsafe to eat. This is when we realized that food expiration dates must lead to huge amounts of food waste, which is a root cause of food insecurity.

After this enlightening experience we began to research the inefficiencies associated with food expiration labeling. It turned out that this was as big as a problem as we hypothesized. We found astonishing statistics like “91 percent of consumers occasionally throw food away based on the “sell by” date out of a mistaken concern for food safety even though none of the date labels actually indicate food is unsafe to eat” and “an estimated $900 million worth of expired food is removed from the supply chain every year. While not all of this is due to confusion, a casual survey of grocery store workers found that even employees themselves do not distinguish between different kinds of dates”.

This led us to find the causes of such common confusion throughout the state of Michigan and the United States in general. We did this through our own surveys, which are included under our references, in Qualtrics and the Michigan student caucus website along with analysis of third party sources. The two main confusions were over the significance of expiration dates and the difference between other common labels like “best by” and “sell by” dates. According to our data 72% of respondents had thrown away food that was either past its “best by” or “sell by” date. Also, the most common answer to our question asking “what does a food expiration date mean?” was essentially “no longer safe to consume”. This data along with plenty of critical information from scientific journals and media sources led to our initial proposal revolving around improving in school food and nutrition education.

This proposal included the introduction of food expiration information and volunteers from local food banks educating students. This proposal came to a halt once we met with professor Fahy though. During our meeting he brought up great counterarguments about finding the time and money to implement this type of program. This made us rethink our ideas and led to our final proposal solution. The introduction of a law that requires food manufacturers to be more transparent with their food expiration labeling.  

We knew this new type of proposal would be difficult because it would force large food manufacturers to change their current systems and similar legislation had probably been proposed before. After speaking with several people at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural development and local food manufacturers, we learned that our assumptions were once again incorrect. Ken Settimo, a Food Safety Specialist for the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, informed us that he had rarely heard from people or other government officials on this issue. While Amy Emberling, Managing Partner at Zingerman’s Deli, thought that it would be great idea if all food manufacturers shared a common language in food labeling.

These consultations gave us confidence that our proposal was a great idea that people on all sides of the issue would be willing to work with. Finally, it came time for us to draft up the exact language and design behind our proposal. Our best solution was formed around “best by” and “expiration” dates. We believed that if both terms were standardized based on our proposal definitions and food manufacturers followed our other rules, then there would be a major fall in food waste and insecurity. Food waste would decrease due to a reduction in consumer confusion over food safety. While food insecurity would decline due to an increase in discounted food items that are between their “best by” and “expiration” dates.

 

Author contributions:

Maxwell:

Maxwell was in charge of contacting consultants by phone and researching specific language and rhetoric relating to our proposal.

Jacob:

Jacob was in charge of contacting consultants through email and finding laws and proposed legislation that were similar to our proposal.

Maxwell and Jacob:

We jointly spent all of our volunteer time at Food Gathers, where we gained our fundamental idea and a lot of other valuable information for our proposal. Both of us spent countless hours researching, creating, and finally finishing the previously stated proposal. We did most of the work together and felt that each of us put in the same amount of effort to reach our final piece of proposed legislation, which we are extremely proud of.

 

===FORMAL PROPOSAL===

The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

WHEREAS.... Food Waste is one of the root causes of hunger throughout the world.

WHEREAS.... The food insecurity rate in the state of Michigan has risen to 15.7%, which is above the national average.

WHEREAS.... Students only receive about 3 hours of nutrition and food education in school each year.

WHEREAS….Food Expiration date confusion causes 90% of consumers to waste food.

WHEREAS….Common food items like chicken and pasta and can can be safely eaten for years after their “expiration dates”.

WHEREAS.... The federal government and state of Michigan have very few standards on food expiration labeling.

WHEREAS.... There is no law or statewide program specifically aimed at reducing food hunger and insecurity in the state of michigan.

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED....

1. By April 18, 2022 all food manufacturers will be required to label all of their products with “Best by” and “Expiration” dates.

2. The “Best by Date” will indicate the last day or month when a food manufacturer feels their product will be consumed at peak quality and flavor. This date will be met with little to no pushback from the state of Michigan due to limited scientific data or testing methods.

3. The “Expiration Date” will indicate the day at which a food product may get stale, go sour, or become hazardous to the consumer. This date will be established through collaboration between the state of Michigan and food manufacturers.

4. The state of Michigan will create specific food guidelines based on current and future research on this issue. The specific dates or periods for each food item will be created by April 18, 2020.

5. Any food manufacturers conflicts with the State of Michigan standards created on April 18, 2020 will have to file a complaint with the state. This will be dealt with on a case by case basis.

6. The previously stated clauses are subject to change based on the introduction of new food products, conflicting research, food storage methods.

Counter-arguments:
  1. With thousands of food manufacturing companies throughout Michigan and hundreds of thousands throughout the country, it will be fairly difficult for one state to implement a law.

  2. To educate the general public to look for new dates and to know the difference between a “best by” date and “expiration” date may be difficult. It will take educational efforts throughout the state to overcome the learning curve.

  3. Grocery Stores may decide to hold the food for longer periods and may choose to not not sell by the  “best by” date. This would lead to less donations to the food banks in Michigan, which in turn may lead to an increase in issues related to hunger.

  4. To find an exact date of expiration may be very difficult and costly for many companies. They may have to do research and find dates that would not have had to do otherwise. This may lead to certain companies deciding not to sell in the state of Michigan.


Costs and funding:

This proposal will have minimal costs related to direct expenses, lost tax revenue, and non-monetary expenses. The biggest cost associated with our proposal is due to the scientific research of expiration dates. Currently there are various websites and scientific journals that contain the data that are researchers will be looking for. For example, the USDA has already developed an app called FoodKeeper, which is aimed at educating consumers when food is at peak quality or hazardous. This means that only a small amount of funds will be needed to purchase and test food products that may not be well examined. This overall research will most likely be funded by hunger relief organizations like Feeding America, who see the future benefits of the success and expansion of this law.

The one source of potential competing interests is food manufacturers. Food manufacturers may shortsidely see potential increase in their research and development costs due to this legislation. This could lead to them filing a charge or complaint against the state of Michigan. This may lead to a future date of introduction, but will ultimately fail due to the lack of basis for the claim. Ultimately, this proposal will increase the economic opportunities for these large businesses (increased sales) and their consumers (larger discounts) alike.

References:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/17/south-florida-food-insecurity-hunger-statistics_n_3455434.html

https://www.nokidhungry.org/who-we-are/hunger-facts

https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/5298/text

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB2725

https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2017/09/20/average-student-loan-debt-michigan/681697001/

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/mcl/pdf/mcl-act-92-of-2000.pdf

https://foodtank.com/news/2016/11/schooling-food-waste-how-schools-can-teach-kids-to-value-food/

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/02/15/515427797/food-companies-may-say-goodbye-to-sell-by-labels

http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/americans_waste_almost_50_percent_of_food_produced

https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/frss/publications/96852/

https://www.nrdc.org/media/2013/130918

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/02/15/515427797/food-companies-may-say-goodbye-to-sell-by-labels

http://theconversation.com/how-do-food-manufacturers-pick-those-dates-on-their-product-packaging-and-what-do-they-mean-60591

http://bakertilly.com/insights/why-do-governments-provide-incentives

http://map.feedingamerica.org/county/2015/overall/michigan

http://www.foodgatherers.org/?module=Page&sID=about-us

https://www.eater.com/2016/5/17/11695248/expiration-date-legislation-national-standard-sell-use-best-by

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/03/26/395160156/think-nobody-wants-to-buy-ugly-fruits-and-veggies-think-again

http://nationalaglawcenter.org/california-bill-would-standardize-food-label-expiration-dates/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/02/16/a-barely-noticeable-change-to-how-food-is-labeled-could-save-americans-millions/?utm_term=.a5a79a3ace00

http://www.wri.org/news/2017/09/release-companies-commit-simplify-food-date-labels-worldwide-2020-reducing-food-waste

https://www.today.com/series/30-seconds-to-know/never-waste-food-again-what-expiration-dates-really-mean-t100715

https://www.nrdc.org/media/2013/130918

https://umich.qualtrics.com/responses/#/surveys/SV_3JmAWhDjg0EKBTL



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Total votes: 34