The Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association today released their joint agreement on voluntary standard wording on packages informing customers the date by which a product should be used.
The agreement won praise from Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, author of a bill to reduce food waste.
“Currently, more than 10 different date labels on packages – such as Sell By, Use By, Expires On, Best Before, Better if Used By or Best By – can result in confused consumers discarding a safe or usable product after the date on the package,” FMI and GMA said in a joint release.
The new voluntary initiative, they said, streamlines the date labels down to just two standard 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.
“Retailers and manufacturers are encouraged to immediately begin phasing in the common wording with widespread adoption urged by the summer of 2018,” the groups said.
“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 GMA President and CEO Pamela Bailey.
“The shopper remains the most critical audience in our industry, and as the associations representing major food brands and retailers, we want to encourage a consistent vocabulary so that our customers clearly understand they are purchasing products that are of the highest quality and safety possible,” said FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin.
“Eliminating confusion for consumers by using common product date wording is a win-win because it means more products will be used instead of thrown away in error,” said Jack Jeffers, vice president of quality at Dean Foods, which led GMA’s work on this issue. “It’s much better that these products stay in the kitchen – and out of landfills.”
REDUCING FOOD WASTE
About 44 percent of food waste sent to landfills comes from consumers, and statistics show that addressing consumer confusion around product date labeling could reduce total national food waste by 8 percent, the groups said.
“Clarifying and standardizing date label language is one of the most cost-effective ways that we can reduce the 40 percent of food that goes to waste each year in the United States,” said Emily Broad Leib, director of Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC). “Having worked for several years on this issue, I am thrilled to see GMA and FMI incorporate FLPC’s recommendations and take this critical step towards making date labels clearer, so that consumers can make better decisions and reduce needless waste of food and money.”
In a news release, Pingree applauded the new industry standards.
“I appreciate the work of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute to develop a standard that distinguishes between when food is no longer safe to eat versus when it might not be at its peak flavor,” Pingree said. “This is an important step as we seek to standardize date labels. But the only way to fully resolve inconsistent state date labeling laws across the country is to set a national uniform system for date labeling, which is why I will soon be reintroducing my legislation to do so.”
There are no federal regulations regarding date labeling on food products besides infant formula, which has allowed states to step in and create a patchwork of state date labeling requirements, Pingree noted.
Last year, Pingree and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced a bill that does not mandate that manufacturers put date labels on food, but provides standardized language if they decide to do so. Part of the legislation would also make sure states cannot restrict the donation of food that has passed its quality date, something that can only be accomplished through a legislative fix.
Pingree said she plans to reintroduce that legislation, the Food Date Labeling Act, in the coming weeks. She also plans to reintroduce another bill, the Food Recovery Act, which takes comprehensive steps at the federal level to address the problem of food waste.
The International Dairy Foods Association, which was not directly part of the FMI-GMA effort, commended the effort and said IDFA will work with the National Consumers League as it expandS its consumer education program to reduce food waste.
“We know that not all dairy companies will be able to voluntarily change their date labels, because several states require specific language for dairy products. We are committed to working to resolve conflicting state laws that could prevent our milk and dairy companies from adopting standardized date labels,” FDA said in a news release.