On May 23, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a letter to the food industry “strongly support[ing]” the use of “Best If Used By” labeling to describe the date when a food will be at its best flavor and quality. FDA believes that standardizing the use of date labels for quality reasons will be one helpful step in reducing food waste. Importantly, date labeling is generally not required at the federal level other than for infant formula. It is, however, required by some states. The FDA guidance indicates that when date labeling is used for quality reasons, the recommended introductory phrase is “Best If Used By” – the same phrase recommended by a voluntary industry labeling initiative spearheaded by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI).
The letter starts by noting that approximately 30 percent of food is lost or wasted at the retail and consumer level, amounting to approximately 133 billion pounds of food worth $161 billion each year. FDA has found that food waste by consumers can result from fears about food safety caused by misunderstanding around what the introductory phrases on product date labels mean (e.g., “Best If Used by,” “Use By,” and “Sell By”), along with uncertainty about the storage of perishable foods. The agency cites a source estimating that confusion over date labeling accounts for approximately 20 percent of consumer food waste.