USDA Revises Guidance on Date Labeling to Help Avoid Consumer Confusion, Reduce Food Waste
Image: Pixabay

USDA Revises Guidance on Date Labeling to Help Avoid Consumer Confusion, Reduce Food Waste

The agency is now recommending that food manufacturers use the phrase 'Best if Used By'

December 15, 2016

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued updated information on food product labeling, including new guidance aimed at reducing food waste through encouraging food manufacturers and retailers that apply product dating to use a Best if Used By date label.

"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 currently 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.

FSIS says that it is changing its guidance to recommend that food manufacturers use the phrase Best if Used By because research shows that this phrase is easily understood by consumers as an indicator of quality, rather than safety.

The USDA estimates that 30 percent of food is lost or wasted at the retail and consumer level. This new guidance builds on other recent changes that FSIS has made to facilitate food donation and reduce food waste. In January 2016, FSIS issued Directive 7020.1, which made it easier for companies to donate products that have minor labeling errors, such as an incorrect net weight. FSIS has also begun recognizing food banks as "retail-type" establishments, which allows food banks (under certain circumstances) to break down bulk shipments of federally-inspected meat or poultry products, wrap or rewrap those products, and label the products for distribution to consumers. This year alone, FSIS has enabled 2.6 million pounds of manufacturer donations.

Public comments on this revised guidance may be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at Regulations.gov or by mail to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, FSIS, Docket Clerk, Patriots Plaza III, 355 E St. S.W., 8-163A, Mailstop 3782, Washington, DC 20250-3700. All comments submitted must include docket number FSIS-2016-0044. FSIS will accept comments for 60 days.