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Date Labeling Reform

June 14, 2017

By: Meghan Stasz, Senior Director, Sustainability

The food, beverage, and consumer products industry is committed to helping consumers make informed choices about the products they buy every day. One issue that’s been causing a lot of confusion among shoppers and households are date labels. Those “sell by,” “freshest by,” “best if used by,” and myriad other phrases are leaving consumers confused about what to do with a product at or after the date on the package. Groups ranging from the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic to the Institute for Food Technologists released studies over the past years indicating that, not only are U.S. consumers confused, but this confusion is also causing food to be thrown away unnecessarily. 

To address this problem, the manufacturing and retail grocery industry, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI) in February announced a new voluntary national standard to streamline date label phrases from the more than ten in the marketplace now to just two phrases. “BEST if Used By” will indicate quality and “USE By” will be on the small subset of products that have safety concern over time. These phrases and the national standard were developed over the course of 2016 by a group of 25 leading manufacturing and retail grocery companies.

Companies are encouraged to adopt these standardized phrases immediately with a goal of broad adoption nationwide by the summer of 2018.  For some companies and some products, making a change to the phrase on the label is simple. For others, it will take more effort and investment (and time) because of how the phrase is laid-out on the label. Nevertheless, this industry-led solution will be rolled out across the U.S. in the coming year, helping consumers make informed choices and saving them money by reducing unnecessary waste.

Providing consumers access to accurate and easy to understand information about the food and consumer products they buy is critical. This will be a hot topic at the upcoming Global Sustainability Summit hosted by GMA and FMI August 9-11, 2017 in Nashville, TN. The many ways industry is meeting that need, including date labeling reform and existing efforts like GMA’s SmartLabelTM tool and FMI’s Food Keeper app are on the program. Experts from the industry will share waste reduction and consumer engagement strategies and initiatives. Industry led efforts such as date labeling reform are highly effective because of they build on experience and expertise. You can learn more and engage on this issue and a host of others with your peers in August.


Filed under: Labeling

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