United States

Grocery Manufacturers Association Tries to Clear Up Dates on Food Packaging, Prevent Waste of Good Food

Food thrown away after passing the date on the packaging contributes to billions of dollars of unnecessary waste because those confusing food labels are outdated themselves. The date you see on most items probably isn't really an expiration date at all.

U.S. law only requires an actual expiration date on one item: Baby formula. Every other date on food is voluntary under federal standards.

Without clear guidelines, consumers are bombarded with terms: “Best by,” “expires on,” “use by,” “best flavor by,” “sell by” and “enjoy by.” The meanings vary, and so does the science used to calculate the date, but shoppers are expected to decipher it.

"What the confusion leads to is consumers unnecessarily throwing away some food when it might still be good to eat," said Megan Stasz of Grocery Manufacturers Association.

By some estimates, 40 percent of food that is grown, produced and shipped in this country will never be eaten, winding up in the trash in part because consumers don’t understand the labels.

That should change this summer.

"Rather than having 10 or 20 phrases on your food products now, you'll just see one of two," Stasz said.

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The Grocery Manufacturers Association is telling companies to start using either "best if used by" or "use by."

Most products will be "best if used by" since the association says most food is safe to use or consume after the date.

The remaining few products will read "use by." That's reserved for highly perishable food that might pose a health risk after the date on the label.

"So maybe something like a sliced deli meat or raw shellfish that would have that food safety concern over time," Stasz said.

Food experts are hungry to teach families about the new labels and help them stop wasting so much food.

"In turn, that can help them save money, which I think is a win for everybody," Stasz said.

The new labels are still voluntary.

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