WASHINGTON (AP) _ Legislation to force federal authorities to restrict the shipment of food in rail cars or trucks that also ship garbage or hazardous materials is proceeding through the House.

The Energy and Commerce subcommittee on transportation, tourism and hazardous materials approved the legislation Tuesday after testimony last week described a practice known as ''backhauling.''

Backhauling, intended to increase the revenues of shippers, means carrying a cargo on the return trip after making an original shipment.

Recent hearings and news reports have documented how shippers bringing food from the Midwest to the East have carryied return loads of garbage because eastern landfills are overflowing.

The bill would require the administration to determine which cargoes may be backhauled and what procedure are needed to clean the vehicles when backhauling is permitted.

Subcommittee chairman Thomas A. Luken, D-Ohio, said the bill is intended to give flexibility to regulators.

''This is not intended to be a veto or elimination of any backhauling,'' he said. ''We don't want to foul up or create blockades within the food distribution system.''

Luken represents Cincinnati, where Kroger, a major supermarket chain, has its headquarters.

The bill is part of larger legislation dealing with hazardous shipments, including the safety of hazardous chemical shipments by rail. The spinoff bill was created because of publicity generated by the hearing.

Today, the Public Works and Transportation surface transportation subcommittee is putting the final touches on related legislation, and the full committee is scheduled to vote on it Thursday.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Clinger, R-Pa., forbids backhauling of municipal solid waste in refrigerated food trucks and forbids mixed use of tank trucks or cars for hauling both food and non-food items.