New Date Labeling Initiative Launched to Reduce Consumer Confusion
Supermarket shelves are overflowing with food and beverage products sporting a dizzying array of date labels. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) report (here and here) that, as it stands, at least 10 different date labels on packages – such as Sell By, Use By, Expires On, Best Before, Better if Used By or Best By – are currently in the marketplace and can result in confused consumers discarding a safe or usable product after the date on the package.
To reduce consumer confusion, GMA and FMI have joined together to spearhead efforts to streamline and standardize the wording accompanying the date labels on packages to offer greater clarity regarding the quality and safety of products. This new voluntary initiative calls for the use of just two standard phrases:
“BEST If Used By” – to describe product quality where the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to use or consume; and
“USE By” – which would apply to the few products that are highly perishable and/or have a food safety concern over time; these products should be consumed by the date listed on the package – and disposed of after that date.
This industry-wide effort, which seeks to stem consumer confusion over dates on the product label and potentially help consumers avoid unnecessary food waste, follows on USDA’ recent guidance encouraging manufacturers and retailers of meat, dairy and eggs to use one universal “Best if Used By” date label on their products.
GMA and FMI are encouraging retailers and manufacturers to immediately begin phasing in the common wording with widespread adoption by the summer of 2018. Broad industry adoption of this new voluntary standard is intended to occur over time to allow companies flexibility to make the changes in a way that ensures consistency across their product categories.