Safe and Smart

Clarity for Expiration Dates on Food


Many Americans have been confused by the “Sell By” labels on groceries for 40 years. Now, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the two largest industry trade groups, are adopting voluntary standardized regulations to clarify. Instead of using up to 10 different phrases to communicate safety, they have settled on just two: “Use By”, a safety designation to indicate when perishable foods are no longer good; and “Best if Used By”, an estimate of when the manufacturer thinks the product should be consumed for peak flavor.

Studies show that consumers generally believe the current labels all signal whether a product is safe to eat, and that it will still be okay well after its so-called expiration date. At the same time, prematurely tossed groceries dominate landfills and produce greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and a coalition of environmental groups have been urging the industry to clear this up. The change is scheduled to take hold in July 2018.

This article appears in the June 2017 issue of Natural Awakenings.

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