Best before, best before: a new invoice helps clear up confusion with date labels

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Sell ​​before, use before, best before – what do all of these phrases mean and is it safe to eat food if the date has passed? These are questions that many of us face every time we go for something to eat. In reality, date labels rarely have anything to do with food safety; instead, they’re almost always a manufacturer’s best guess as to when the food will be of optimum quality. Today, 41 states require date labels on certain products and the phrases used on the labels vary. These labeling inconsistencies are one of the main causes of food waste in the United States. end the confusion by standardizing and streamlining date labeling.

A grocery store buyer checks a date label on the juice. Photo: Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have responded to this call. December 7e, U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) reintroduced the Food Date Labeling Act to the House and Senate. The intention of the bill is to end consumer confusion over food date labeling and to increase the consumption and donation of safe edible foods.

Here are some key points of the bill:

  • The new language clearly makes the difference between quality and safety. The main point of confusion with date labels is that often foods can still be safely eaten after the printed dates, although the quality may be reduced (like stale crackers, for example). This bill removes this confusion by creating two types of labels that manufacturers and food labels can voluntarily use. The first is “better if used by “(Where “better by”), a label indicating when the quality of the food may start to decline. The second is “use by, “ a label indicating when the food is no longer edible. The bill allows food labels to decide which foods should be labeled “best before” or “best before”, but we believe “use before” should be used specifically for perishable foods like meat or dairy products.

Although labeling is voluntary, many industry groups, such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, have expressed support for the “best before” and “use before” labeling system and some have supported it. have already adopted. Both types of labels will help consumers make informed decisions about whether it is still safe to eat the food or whether to throw the food out (ideally to compost it). or smells “funny” as part of evaluating whether to eat it.

  • This bill, if it becomes law, would allow the donation of food after the use-by date. Currently, there are no clear federal guidelines on donating food after the labeled date (although 20 states prohibit or restrict the sale or donation of food after the labeled date). This law would ensure that states could no longer regulate food donations beyond the use-by date, making such donations universally permitted and making it clear that excess food can be donated, provided it meets specifications. of security.
  • Consumer education will be essential to the success of the new date labeling practices, and this bill requires it. If enacted, this law would require the USDA and the FDA to work together to educate and educate consumers about the new date labeling system. We need to clear up the confusion around date labels once and for all and make sure everyone understands what “best before” and “best before” mean so that less perfectly good foods are thrown out.

The Food Date Labeling Act, 2021 is the kind of leadership we need from the federal government to meet our national 2030 goal of reducing food waste production by 50% and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. harmful greenhouse effects that come from wasted food. You can read more about the NRDC’s federal food waste policy goals in the Food Loss and Waste Action Plan.


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