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Industry Introduces National Guidance for Standard Date Labels to Reduce Confusion and Food Waste

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) is thrilled to share that the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) today launched a new initiative to standardize date labels on food packages. The voluntary initiative encourages retailers and manufacturers to only use one of two standard phrases on consumer facing food packing. “BEST if Used By” will be used to describe a product’s quality. 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. “USE By” will be used only for the few products that carry a food safety risk that increases past the date. According to the same national survey, “use by,” is one of two phrases most easily understood by consumers as an indicator of food safety. Clarifying and standardizing date labels on food products has been shown to be one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce the unnecessary waste of healthy, wholesome food.

This new industry announcement follows the recommendations FLPC has advocated for the past several years. In 2013, FLPC and the Natural Resources Defense Council published The Dating Game, which examined the legal and policy regime surrounding expiration dates on foods, and exposed how unclear and unregulated date labeling contributes to an alarming amount of unnecessary food waste. In 2015, FLPC and Racing Horse Productions released the short film Expired? Food Waste in America, which profiled the waste of milk in Montana to illustrate the issue of misleading food date labels as a leading cause of food waste in America and call for a unified date 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 education to advocates, government agencies and food industry leaders that are working to reform the expiration date system through both policy avenues and voluntary initiatives.

FLPC commends FMI and GMA on their leadership and collaboration in creating a new set of voluntary standards for date labels. This announcement is an important first step toward eliminating date label confusion and helping consumers to avoid wasting food. We hope that manufacturers and retailers across the nation will choose to utilize these standard quality and safety labels, as well as work to educate consumers about the meaning of the labels so that they can make better decisions and reduce the waste of food and money.

Learn more about the GMA/FMI voluntary date label standards here.

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