Late last year, we observed that while reforming food labels would be a great idea to cut down on food waste, the grocery industry needs no law or prompting from the government to actually make that happen. However, it could create its own standards without the government helping at all.
Guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends using only a “best if used by” date for meat and dairy, noting that items could still be safely consumed after that if they had been handled safely.
“Foods not exhibiting signs of spoilage should be wholesome and may be sold, purchased, donated and consumed beyond the labeled ‘Best if Used By’ date,” reads the agency’s guidance for food companies, grocers, and consumers.
The Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association announced this week new voluntary standards with specific meaning. We tend to assume that any date on a package is the expiration date and indicates that’s when the product should be tossed, when that isn’t really the case.
“Millions of Americans are tossing perfectly good food in the trash because they think it’s not safe to eat after the date on the package,” Dana Gunders of the Natural Resources Defense Council said about the new guidelines. “This is a critical step toward clearing up the confusion and stopping all of that food, money, water and energy from going to waste.”
Assuming that all manufacturers follow the guidelines, these are the only labels you’ll see on your food:
Use By: This is a safety designation, and means that you should consume the item before that date.
Best if Used By: This is a quality designation, and means that the item will be fresher and taste better before the date, but won’t harm you after that date.
Between retailers and our own refrigerators and pantries, experts estimate that we throw away about one-third of our food supply.
“Eliminating confusion for consumers by using common product date wording is a win-win because it means more products will be used instead of thrown away in error,” Jack Jeffers, vice president of quality at dairy producer Dean Foods and one of the industry people who helped develop the guidance, said in a statement.