There are substantial changes coming to date labels on food, according to an article in The Washington Post. The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the two largest groups representing the grocery industry, announced that they’ve adopted standardized, voluntary regulations to clear up what product date labels mean.

Currently, manufacturers can use any phrasing they choose, such as “expires on,” “sell by,” or “better if used by.” Because of the lack of standardization, consumers don’t know what expiration dates mean, leading to wasting food unnecessarily. According to the article, one industry survey found “91 percent of consumers have mistakenly thrown away past-date food, when the label only signals the manufacturer’s guess at its peak quality.” Preventing the wastage of wholesome food through standardized date labeling can divert almost 400,000 tons of food waste, according to ReFED.

The new standards announced by the two industry groups will set two descriptors for date labels: “Use By” to indicate food safety and “Best if Used By” to indicate peak quality. Although the standards are voluntary, both FMI and GMA are expecting to see widespread adoption. For example, Walmart, the largest grocer in the United States, has expressed enthusiasm for the change.

The announcement comes after the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued its own new guidance for food product labeling. Their guidance encourages food manufacturers and retailers to use a “Best if Used By” date label.

Standardizing date labels may have widespread implications for food donation. The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic produced a Legal Fact Sheet for Food Donation in Massachusetts which details how state regulations on date labels affect the donation of food. Clearly understood food labels may lead to greater recognition that food past its “Best if Used By” date is still safe for both consumption and donation.

RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts assists businesses and institutions with recycling and food waste reduction through food donation and composting. To speak to a recycling expert, call our hotline: (888) 254-5525 or email us at info@recyclingworksma.com.