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Grocery Initiative Aims to Reduce Confusion on Product Date Labels

Retailers and manufacturers align on standard wording to help consumers cut food waste.
February 17, 2017

​WASHINGTON – In a new industry-wide effort to reduce consumer confusion about product date labels, grocery manufacturers and retailers have joined together to adopt standard wording on packaging about the quality and safety of products. Currently, more than 10 different date labels on packages—such as Sell By, Use By, Expires On, Best Before, Better if Used By or Best By—can result in confused consumers discarding a safe or usable product after the date on the package.

The new voluntary initiative streamlines the myriad date labels on consumer products packaging down to just two standard phrases:

  • “BEST If Used By” describes product quality, where the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to use or consume.
  • “USE By” applies to the few products that are highly perishable and/or have a food safety concern over time; these products should be consumed by the date listed on the package—and disposed of after that date.

The new initiative for common phrasing is led by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the two major trade associations for retailers and consumer products manufacturing. Retailers and manufacturers are encouraged to immediately begin phasing in the common wording with widespread adoption urged by the summer of 2018. Broad industry adoption of this new voluntary standard will occur over time so companies have flexibility to make the changes in a way that ensures consistency across their product categories.

“Our product code dating initiative is the latest example of how retailers and manufacturers are stepping up to help consumers and to reduce food waste,” said Pamela G. Bailey, GMA president and CEO, in a press release.

“The shopper remains the most critical audience in our industry, and as the associations representing major food brands and retailers, we want to encourage a consistent vocabulary so that our customers clearly understand they are purchasing products that are of the highest quality and safety possible,” added Leslie G. Sarasin, FMI president and CEO. “While we all need nourishment, both retailers and manufacturers also want consumers to have the best experience possible in their stores and consuming their products.”