The impact of product date labels

According to Caitlin Dewey from the Washington Post, a majority of Americans do not have a clear idea of what product date labels mean or the information they are trying to give. Currently, food manufacturers use 10 different label phrases, including “Expires On”, “Better If Used By”, “Use By” and “Best If Used By,” hence the confusion.

The food industry has been making changes to clear up this misunderstanding. Two weeks ago the two largest trade groups for the grocery industry, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, announced the adoption of standardized and voluntary regulations for product date labels. Manufacturers will now be encouraged to use only two phrases: “Use by” and “Best If Used By.” The main difference between the two denominations is: the first is considered a safety designation which indicates when perishable foods are no longer in edible condition. The second is a quality descriptor which represents a subjective guess of when the manufacturer thinks the product should be consumed.

The adoption of standardized labels goes beyond the clarification of a popular confusion among Americans. According to the NRDC and Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, and based on data from a food industry survey, 91% of consumers in the U.S had mistakenly thrown away food by misreading the date label. For ReFED, the confusion surrounding the consumption of safe and edible food is estimated to account for 20% of consumer waste, equating to approximately $29 billion of wasted consumer spending each year.

Additionally, environmental and food safety advocates have been urging the industry for a reform because food waste represents a significant use of landfill space and is a significant source of greenhouse emissions. According to ReFED, standardized date labels are among the best solutions to food waste, diverting approximately 398,000 tons of waste annually.


Daniela Oliva


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