Standardized language for expiration dates should help reduce food waste, according to GMA

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Grocery manufacturers association Nutrition

According to the nonprofit Feeding America, 126 billion pounds of food is wasted each year in America – a staggering number that prompted USDA and EPA to challenge producers, manufacturers and consumers to help reduce food loss and waste by 50% by 2030.

Earlier this year the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute announced a major initiative that will help consumers do their part to reach the government’s ambitious goal by standardizing and clarifying date labels on packages.

“There is confusion among consumers about how long they should be able to keep food, and we have spent a lot of time looking at date labels,”​ which are a source of confusion for consumers and could prompt some to throw away perfectly edible food because they erroneously believe it has expired, Mike Gruber, Senior Vice President for Federal Affairs, Grocery Manufacturers Association told FoodNavigator-USA at GMA’s recent Science Forum in Washington, DC.

Pointing to a study conducted by Harvard and the Natural Resource Defense Council in 2013, Gruber explained that companies currently use more than 10 different date labels to communicate the point at which a product either is no longer safe to eat, or not at its prime.

The GMA teamed with the Food Marketing Institute to simplify expiration date labeling language with the goal of reducing consumer confusion and the resulting food waste.

“We did a number of consumer studies and found that best if used by or freeze by would be best for quality day and use by or freeze by for perishables, so items that are in the refrigerated section of the grocery store that might be a safety concern,”​ Gruber said.

Companies have until July 2018 to make the change, which aligns with the current deadline for the new Nutrition Facts Label for large companies. While this would be a lot of change at once for some companies, GMA believes that making all the labeling changes at once, would be easier for manufacturers.

Once the majority of manufacturers have switched to the new expiration date language, GMA will launch a consumer education campaign to maximize the full impact of the change, although the trade group believes the new language will come naturally to consumers. 

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