“Best If Used By”: New FDA Wording Aims To Reduce Food Waste

Posted: Friday, September 13, 2019 by Global Food Safety Resource

By Susan L. (Susie) Hoeller, J.D., CITP

The statistics around food waste in America are astounding and disturbing. Between 30 and 40 percent of food in the United States is thrown away – as much as 20 pounds of food per person per month. That means Americans are wasting $165 billion in food each year. Since food production uses immense water and land resources, this waste has a highly negative environmental impact as well. In addition, avoidable food waste is shameful when so many Americans are food insecure aka hungry.

It is estimated by the FDA that at least 20% of food waste is caused by consumer fears about food safety. The cause is the inconsistent messaging around “expiration” dates on food labels both for perishables and shelf stable foods.

Close up of a can of food's best before date

Consumer Fears about Food Safety
Consumers get confused when they see “Best if Used By,” “Use By,” “Sell By,” and similar phrases on food packaging. Many of the dates stamped on food packaging only relate to optimal food quality, not food safety. Consumers not understanding this distinction often throw out perfectly safe food.

Except for infant formula, food product dating has never been the subject of U.S. federal law. Some states have laws related to food expiration dates but many do not. Consequently, a wide variety of labelling practices has developed over the years.

Leadership on this issue matters, and the FDA is now spearheading a campaign to reduce food waste. The campaign involves consumer education programs on how to minimize food waste while still consuming safe food, as well as encouraging manufacturers to adopt consistent dating practices. A recent example of this leadership can be found in the May 23, 2019 letter which Frank Yiannas, the Deputy FDA Commissioner for Food Policy and Response sent to the food industry. He connected the dots between America’s food waste problem and consumer fears about food safety.

Standardize Labelling
Since consumer research has shown that the clearest message for food quality purposes is the “Best if Used By” labelling, the Yiannas letter is now asking the food industry to standardize its quality dating with this labelling only.

The letter stated that the FDA is not addressing the “Use By” message which industry groups have recommended for food safety dating at this time. It’s definitely time for movement on the issue so that consumer safety can be ensured in a way that reduces the amount of food sent to landfill.


About the Author
Susie Hoeller is currently the principal attorney at the Hoeller Law Firm based in the Tampa Bay, Florida metro area. She is a former food lawyer for Walmart Stores among other career positions. Susie is a graduate of Colby College and Vanderbilt University Law School and she was raised in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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