The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants the food industry to universally adopt a “best if used by” date label on products. “Best if used by” means exactly that: The product is at its freshest if consumed before that date. After that date, the foods are still safe to consume, but the taste or texture may not be optimal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which regulates mainly animal products like meat and eggs, has announced a similar stance.
In a letter to the industry making the recommendation, the FDA notes that a survey conducted towards the end of 2018 found that “88 percent of those surveyed said the streamlined product date labels were clear to them and 85 percent said the streamlined product date labels were helpful.” Frank Yiannas, a deputy commissioner at the FDA, said, “Consumer research has shown that this phrasing helps consumers understand that the date label is about quality, not safety, and that products do not have to be discarded after the date if they are stored properly”
There’s no federal requirement to put date labels on food packages, other than infant formula products. Because food companies do it on their own, there are a wide variety of date labels used, including “sell by,” “expires on,” and “use by.” This has led to confusion over what exactly the different date labels really mean.
Confusion over whether their food is expired or not is a major reason why the average person throws out food. According to research cited by the FDA, about 30 percent of Americans’ food ultimately goes to waste on store shelves or in people’s homes. This means that Americans are tossing out about 133 billion pounds of food worth $161 billion each year.
The suggestion has already been implemented by many members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute. In 2017, the two recommended that its member companies adopt the “best if used by” label for all non-perishable foods, and the “used by” labels for spoilable foods. The Grocery Manufacturers Association says that more than 80 percent of the products in the portfolios of its members now use “best if used by” dates. There’s a similar global effort underway by the Consumer Goods Forum, a network of food industry giants.