Food waste is a huge problem in the US, where some estimates suggest that around 60 million tons of produce is discarded on an annual basis. To address this issue, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), has updated its guidance on date labeling to help food manufacturers reduce unnecessary waste.
The USDA is encouraging the industry to adopt the “Best if Used By” wording on their food product labels. According to the agency, market research suggests that this phrase is easy to understand for consumers, and indicates that the date on the label is an indicator of food quality and freshness, as opposed to food safety.
“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.”
Interestingly, date information is not required by Federal regulations to be included on all food products, with the exception of infant formula. While many food manufacturers opt to voluntarily include this information on their product labels, they often use a number of different phrases, including “Sell-by” and “Use-by.”
This inconsistency in the wording of date labels can be confusing for consumers, who often mistake this date as a hard cut-off in terms of the product’s safety for consumption. This leads to unnecessary disposal of food that is still safe to eat.
About 30 percent of all food is wasted or discarded at the retail and consumer levels, according to estimates made by the USDA. Reducing food loss is one of the agency’s main objectives, which it has been actively working towards since 2009.