Industry pushes for 100% adoption of standard food date labeling by January 2020

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages / Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury
©GettyImages / Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury

Related tags Food safety Fda

By the end of 2019, 98% of food and beverage products will have adopted a standardized version of date labeling – ‘Best If Used By' – with complete adoption anticipated by January 2020, predict the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI).

The industry efforts are aimed at addressing unintended food waste that results from consumer confusion over food date labeling, according to GMA and FMI.

In February 2017, GMA and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) brought together 25 companies (including Conagra, General Mills, Kellogg’s, PepsiCo, Unilever, and Campbell’s) to simplify the more than 10 different label options – ‘sell by’, ‘enjoy by’, ‘fresh until’, ‘best before’ –  used by CPG manufacturers. By December 2018, a GMA survey found that 87% of CPG products (32,093 products) carried the standardized food date labeling language, 'Best If Used By'.

“The collaborative work on this issue seeks to reduce consumer confusion surrounding the assorted vernacular used in reference to date labels by encouraging the industry-wide adoption of standard date label language,”​ said FMI president and CEO Leslie Sarasin in a statement.

A survey conducted by GMA and FMI​ revealed that 85% of Americans found simplified date labels to be helpful. Respondents reported the top benefits of simpler labels were feeling safer, throwing away less, saving money, and feeling more confident in what they use.

‘Best If Used By’ and 'Used By'

GMA and FMI recommended the use of two introductory phrases for product date labels: “Best If Used By” and “Use By.” The group recommends “Best If Used By” be used to “indicate to the consumer that, after a specified date, the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to be used or consumed.” 

“Use By” “applies to perishable products that should be consumed by the date on the package and discarded after that date.” 


"While GMA and FMI have recommended the use of the introductory phrase 'Use By' to indicate the date by which products should be consumed or discarded for safety reasons, FDA is not addressing the use of a “Use by” product date label for safety reasons at this time,"​ said Yiannis. 

FDA support

In late May, the FDA issued a letter supporting the industry adoption of standard food date labeling language.

“As approximately 80% of the foods in the US are regulated by the FDA, we would like to inform our regulated food industries that FDA strongly supports industry’s voluntary industry-wide efforts to use the ‘Best if Used By’ introductory phrase when choosing to include a quality-based date label to indicate when a product will be at its best flavor and quality,”​ said FDA deputy commissioner of food policy and response Frank Yiannis in a letter​ to the food industry.

“The agency’s endorsement signals a best practice in ways industry partners can truly deliver on a promise to provide guidance to our customers that is easier to understand,”​ Sarasin said in statement. 

Curbing food waste through proper food date labeling

The USDA estimates that 133 billion pounds of food is wasted in the US annually, translating into more than $161bn worth of food thrown away each year.

The FDA estimates that 20% of consumer food waste stems from confusion over date labeling.

“The FDA has found that food waste by consumers may often result from fears about food safety caused by misunderstanding what the introductory phrases on product date labels mean, along with uncertainty about storage of perishable foods,”​ stated Yiannis.

"While standardizing the use of date labels for quality reasons is encouraged as a best practice, we know that labeling is not enough. FDA supports ongoing consumer education efforts by industry, government, and non-government organizations to educate consumers on what quality-based date labels mean and how to use them to further reduce food waste in the home."

According to Sarasin, FMI, GMA, and the FDA, will coordinate industry efforts to educate consumers on food date labeling and increase adoption of the standardized date labels.

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