Expiration date labels on food and drinks have been the subject of confusion for many years, as shoppers struggle to understand the difference between "Best By," "Use By," "Best If Used By" and other phrases. Regulators have attempted to standardize these marks, but until recently, little progress has been made.
Forty-four percent of Americans determine whether to throw food away based on the dates on the label, according to a survey from The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). The two definitions of “Best If Used By” and “Use By” are clear to nearly nine in 10 respondents, and another 85% said moving to only those two labels would be helpful to them.
The Kroger Co. plans to standardize date labels for its private label products to help reduce waste. On its Our Brands products, "Use By" will represent food safety, while "Best If Used By" will represent food quality.
"Kroger recognizes food waste often takes place in our customers' kitchens simply because product date labels can be confusing, resulting in safe-to-eat food regularly being tossed out," said Howard Popoola, Kroger's VP of corporate food technology and regulatory compliance.
The simplified labels will apply to multiple product categories, including dairy, deli, bakery and fresh and frozen grocery. The transition is expected to be completed in 2020.
This is not the first step Kroger has made to fix the date labeling problem and eliminate food waste. It worked with the EPA in July to get other food retailers to take steps in reducing waste, reported Cincinnati Business Courier (July 23). However, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler claims regulation may not be necessary. "If the industry themselves can come up with a program to standardize best-by dates, for example, then there is no need for the federal government to step in."
The industry is starting to do just that. After learning about the confusion consumers are facing, GMA partnered with the Food Marketing Institute to develop two streamlined options: “Best If Used By” and “Use By." Since launching in 2017, 87% of products now carry the streamlined labels, according to GMA.
Product dating is not required by federal regulation, but USDA's FSIS issued a fact sheet in April recommending the use of a “Best If Used By” date label because research shows this phrase is easily understood by consumers as an indicator of quality rather than safety.
ReFED, a non-profit organization committed to reducing U.S. waste, published a report stating "standardizing date labels nationally was the most cost-effective solution to reduce food waste, with the potential to divert 398,000 tons of food waste per year and provide $1.8 billion per year in economic value."
FDA also supports the food industry’s efforts to standardize "Best If Used By" on its packaged food labeling if the date is related to optimal quality, not safety. “We expect that over time, the number of various date labels will be reduced as industry aligns on this ‘Best If Used By’ terminology,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response.
"Best By" dates are just one of the many updates to food labels currently being implemented. For a full review of food labeling basics and a look at the changes being made to nutrition labeling regulations, attend the Food Institute's annual U.S. Food Labeling Seminar, now being offered as an online course.
Jennette has been with The Food Institute since 2013. As Marketing Director, she is responsible for promoting all Food Institute books, seminars and webinars, as well as writing and editing the Food Institute’s annual publications. Additionally, she writes for and edits the daily news update, Today in Food, and contributes to the biweekly Food Institute Report. She has a background in non-profit and environmental marketing, programming and writing, and graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a degree in Communication Studies.
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