Sell-by dates on food are about to become more realistic


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❝ On Wednesday, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the two largest trade groups for the grocery industry, announced that they’ve adopted standardized, voluntary regulations to clear up what product date labels mean. Where manufacturers now use any of 10 separate label phrases, ranging from “expires on” to “better if used by,” they’ll now be encouraged to use only two: “Use By” and “Best if Used By.”

The former is a safety designation, meant to indicate when perishable foods are no longer good. “Best if Used By” is a quality descriptor — a subjective guess of when the manufacturer thinks the product should be consumed for peak flavor.

❝ That’s what most “use-by” dates indicate now, though studies have shown that many consumers believe they signal whether a product is okay to eat. In fact, it’s totally fine to eat a product even well after its so-called expiration date.

❝ These dates typically indicate one of two things: a message from the manufacturer to the grocery store, telling the store when the product will look best on shelves, or a subjective measure — often little more than a guess — of when consumers will most “enjoy” the product. Methods for setting those dates have been left to manufacturers, rather like the phrasing of the labels themselves…

❝ Advocates and environmentalists have been warning for years that many people interpret date labels as a sign that food is no longer good to eat. As a result, 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.

❝ Shoppers shouldn’t expect to see the new labels the next time they buy groceries; the change won’t be immediate. While FMI and GMA are urging manufacturers and retailers to make it now, they have until July 2018. Even then, the standards are voluntary, so there’s no guarantee that they’ll be adopted by every single company.

RTFA for more discussion, inevitable state vs federal standards. You’re going to have to pick your way through a bit of crap legalese, no doubt. The market will have to sort out the rest.

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