Manufacturers and retailers have adopted standard wording for product date labels on food packaging that the industry says will help reduce food waste.
The new voluntary initiative, launched by the the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), asks retailers and manufacturers to use one of two phrases. “BEST If Used By” describes product quality, where the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to use or consume. “USE By” applies 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.
Currently, there are more than 10 different date labels on packages — Sell By, Use By, Expires On, Best Before, Better if Used By or Best By, among them — and this results in confused consumers discarding a safe or usable product after the date on the package, the two trade organizations say.
FMI and GMA are encouraging companies to immediately begin phasing in the common wording, and urging widespread adoption by the summer of 2018.
“Our product code dating initiative is the latest example of how retailers and manufacturers are stepping up to help consumers and to reduce food waste,” said Pamela G. Bailey, GMA president and CEO in a statement.
The FMI and GMI food labeling initiative follows guidance from the US Department of Agriculture, issued in December, that recommends manufacturers only print “best if used by” date labels. Legislation has also been introduced in Congress to clarify dates on food labels and reduce waste.
The GMA, whose 300 member companies include Coca-Cola, General Mills and Kraft Foods, has long maintained that while date labeling food is important, it’s not the “silver bullet” for reducing food waste.
According to the industry group, about 44 percent of food waste sent to landfills comes from consumers; addressing consumer confusion around product date labeling could reduce total national food waste by just 8 percent.
In addition to addressing food labeling, the industry is taking other steps to reduce food waste. In 2011, GMA and FMI joined with the National Restaurant Association to create the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, which is helping companies find ways to cut food waste. And in November, major food and retail giants including General Mills, Kellogg, PepsiCo, Unilever and Walmart pledged to halve food waste and loss in their operations by 2030.