Food industry trade groups release voluntary date labeling guidelines

Dive Brief:

  • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), two leading industry trade groups, are calling for companies to make a voluntary shift in their date labeling language. More than 10 different phrases are currently being used, causing consumer confusion and creating waste.
  • "Best if used by" will be the preferred language to convey product quality, but not safety. "Use by" will be for products that are highly perishable or can become unsafe to consume after a certain period of time.
  • The two groups are encouraging retailers and manufacturers to begin working this language into their production process now, with the goal of full implementation by summer 2018.

Dive Insight:

This is another big step in the push to standardize date labels that has been accelerating over the past year. The announcement follows guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in December recommending manufacturers only print "best if used by." Federal legislation has also been proposed on this issue in the past, garnering support from major brands, and could come up again during this current session of Congress.

ReFED has identified date label standardization as one of the most cost-effective food waste reduction strategies available. The topic has also been a major focus for groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. The recently introduced Food Donation Act also addresses the role of date label regulations in food recovery liability protections. 

Until any type of federal law is passed, it will be up to businesses to drive this change — as Wal-Mart and others have already begun doing — especially because they created this range of terminology in the first place. While multiple states with organic waste diversion requirements encourage food recovery before processing, that has still been logistically challenging for businesses. This shift could eventually limit the amount of viable food being thrown away and reduce the need for de-packaging equipment at some processing facilities. 

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Filed Under: Regulation Waste Diversion