PORTLAND — Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree on Monday proposed sweeping new legislation that seeks to reduce food waste in the United States with a system of new tax credits and a redesign of food expiration date notices.

Pingree said as much as 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. is wasted, including uneaten food at restaurants and in homes. The value of that wasted food, according to Pingree, is $161 billion a year — or about $1,500 annually for a family of four.

With millions of U.S. residents suffering from food insecurity, the money lost on tossed meals should motivate Congress to act, Pingree said.

“I am hoping desperately that this gets the conversation going in Washington,” Pingree said during a news conference Monday morning at the Portland Food Co-Op. “This won’t be a partisan issue. Everyone is worried about food waste.”

Pingree’s bill, which she said she would introduce Monday afternoon, would help farms, retailers, restaurants and schools waste less food by providing new tax deductions for diverting food to food banks and using inedible food scraps, such as banana peels and eggshells, for compost. The bill also provides grant funding to help schools and public institutions make better connections with local farms, including using lower-priced “ugly” fruits and vegetables.

Likely the most noticeable change in the bill would be a redesign of expiration date labels used by food manufacturers. Pingree’s bill would clarify that “sell-by” dates on food are only manufacturer suggestions and do not mean the food is unsafe to eat after that date.

“The problem with those dates is that they don’t necessarily mean anything,” said Pingree, whose bill would amend the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act to provide liability protection to businesses that donate wholesome food.

Kristin Miale, president of the Good Shepherd Food Bank, said reclaiming food from the waste stream is one of the most effective ways to reduce food insecurity in Maine, which ranks 12th in the nation.

“One in four children in this state goes hungry,” Miale said. “This is unacceptable and we have to do something about it. … The nuance of hunger in the United States compared to the rest of the world is not about a lack of calories. It’s about a lack of healthy food. We need to be fighting hunger on all fronts.”

Comments are no longer available on this story