'Sell By' Dates On Food Items Will Be Replaced By 'Use By' And 'Best If Used By' Labels


The label "sell by" on food items has been the cause of major confusion among buyers for a long time, given that no one can tell for certain what the label means. However, the grocery industry has finally taken steps to clear up the matter for American consumers.

On Feb. 15, the two largest trade groups of the grocery industry — the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) — made an announcement to do away with the "sell by" tag.

What Will Be Used Instead?

Based on the standardized, voluntary regulations stated by the two trade groups of the grocery industry, every manufacturer will now be using only two labels: "use by" and "best if used by," instead of the other 10 labels used earlier.

The "use by" label acts as the safety indicator, thus hinting to the customer the date by which the food is safe to eat and when it is not.

The "best if used by" label acts as description of quality by the manufacturer, which hints when the product should be consumed to get the best taste.

These dates, which will come from the manufacturer, actually points to one of the two — either the dates indicate to the store when the product should be stacked on store shelves, or suggest to the consumers when to consume the food item for best taste.

Agriculture Department And Retailers Support The Move

Environmental groups and the Department of Agriculture have been for a long time coaxing the food industry to clear this mess up as soon as possible.

"I think it's huge. It's just an enormous step," said Emily Broad-Leib, director of Harvard's Food Law and Policy Clinic.           

Although some of the states have food labeling regulations, most of the major retailers like Walmart have supported the move and have already started abiding by the new regulation.

The FMI and GMA are urging other retailers and manufacturers to adopt the policy as soon as possible. However, they have until July 2018 to incorporate the changes.

Moreover, the standards adopted by the FMI and GMA are voluntary and it necessarily doesn't guarantee the fact that all retailers and manufacturers will adopt the change. Despite this fact, both FMI and GMA expect a widespread adoption of the policy change, as the standards were jotted down by a working group having representatives from large food companies.

How Will The New Labels Help?

According to Walmart, who has already started implementing the change, the new labels will clear up any confusion that the buyer may have in his or her mind and will also reduce food waste.

The Natural Resources Defense Council states that many Americans are throwing out consumable food thinking that it has gone past its expiry date.

"Clarifying and standardizing date label language is one of the most cost effective ways that we can reduce the 40 percent of food that goes to waste each year in the United States," noted Broad-Leib.

Photo: Paul Downey | Flickr 

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