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New Food Labels Aim to Reduce Waste, Provide Clarity

Posted By: SGK July 12, 2017

As many food shoppers know, there is a lot of confusion around the many label phrases that live on the products you buy. It is often difficult to decipher what to do with products once they have reached the date marked on the packaging.

READ: Variable Marking and Coding: Making the Best of a Necessary Good  

In a recent BrandSquare webinar, Megan Stasz, senior director for sustainability at the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) identified that there are anywhere from 10 upwards of 20 different date label phrases that exist on consumer packaging in the United States.

Variations of date labels may include statements like:

  • Sell by
  • Use by
  • Best by
  • Freshest on
  • Born on

This inconsistency in date labeling contributes to misunderstanding about how dates on labels relate to food quality or safety. From a food waste perspective, the single largest category of food waste sent to landfill is coming from U.S. households.

By bringing a streamlined and standard wording to packages, the GMA plans to help clear up consumer confusion about product date labels and reduce food waste.

Watch the entire webinar with Megan Stasz by clicking the image below: 

Best If Used By: Labeling for Informed Choice, Less Waste

A study conducted by the National Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC) in conjunction with the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic indicated there is in fact consumer confusion regarding these labels, and they are sometimes causing consumers to discard food unnecessarily.

The Institute of Food Technologists found that 25% of consumers discard food based on the sell by date, while 10% believe eating food past its best by date is a serious health risk.

Recognizing the challenge of consumer confusion, the food manufacturing sector represented by the GMA and the retail grocery sector represented by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) teamed up to develop a voluntary national standard to streamline confusing phrases on all food labels to just two dates: “BEST if used by” and “USE by”.

What do the label phrases actually mean?

The “BEST if used by” phrase is to be used to indicate product quality. This includes products like cookies or crackers — things that if you eat them after the date on the package, they might not taste quite like what you’d expect, but the product is still safe to consume. For certain products, this may be combined with and “or freeze by” label.

The “USE by” phrase is to be designated to the very small subset of highly perishable products that do have some safety concerns over time, such as food spoilage or sunscreen SPF.

The voluntary national standard for the United States was developed by a working group of about 25 different companies representing both the food brands as well as the major retail grocery stores in the United States.

The idea is to phase in the two phrases now, with the goal of broad industry adoption nationwide by summer of 2018. While widespread industry adoption is urged, companies have the flexibility to make changes in a way that ensures consistency across their products.

Another way the GMA is providing more information and guidance to consumers is through its web-based tool called SmartLabel™. This is a QR code on package designed for consumers to get more information and understand in-depth details regarding the products they buy.

REGISTER for our upcoming BrandSquare webinar with Jim Flannery of the GMA as he presents: SmartLabel™ Technology for Shopper Empowerment and Trust