The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) is thrilled to share that the USDA has updated its guidance for food manufacturers and retailers, encouraging them to use a “Best if Used By” date label for their products. According to a national survey published by FLPC, the National Consumers League, and the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future “best if used by”, is the phrase most easily understood by consumers as an indicator of quality. Using one standard label on all products, and clarifying that this label is intended to communicate quality can reduce consumer confusion regarding date labels.
FLPC has actively been working to increase awareness about the policy changes needed to reform the expiration date system and decrease food waste for the past few years. In 2013 FLPC published a major policy report with the Natural Resources Defense Council that examines the legal and policy regime surrounding expiration dates on foods, and how unclear and unregulated date labeling on food contributes to an alarming amount of unnecessary food waste. On February 11, 2015, FLPC in collaboration with Racing Horse Productions released a short film, Expired? Food Waste in America, which profiles the waste of milk in Montana to illustrate the issue of misleading food labels as a leading cause of food waste in America and calls for a unified labeling system as a solution.
FLPC has also worked with members of Congress on legislation to reform the expiration date system (the Food Date Labeling Act of 2016), as well as providing presentations and policy analysis to advocates, government agencies and food industry leaders that are working to reform the expiration date system through voluntary initiatives. FLPC applauds the USDA for moving to help reduce food waste and clear up confusion around expiration labels. The USDA revised guidance on date labeling is a great first step for standardizing expiration dates across the entire food supply.
Excerpt from USDA’s press release on the guidance:
“‘In an effort to reduce food loss and waste, these changes will give consumers clear and consistent information when it comes to date labeling on the food they buy,’ said Al Almanza, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. ‘This new guidance can help consumers save money and curb the amount of wholesome food going in the trash.’
Except for infant formula, product dating is not required by Federal regulations. Food manufacturers frequently use a variety of phrases, such as ‘Sell-by’ and ‘Use-by’ on product labels to describe quality dates on a voluntary basis. The use of different phrases to describe quality dates has caused consumer confusion and has led to the disposal of food that is otherwise wholesome and safe because it is past the date printed on the package.”