A new voluntary initiative aims to consolidate more than 10 different date labels on packages to “BEST if used by,” to describe product quality, or “USE by,” for highly perishable foods that may present food safety concerns over time.
The effort, which is designed to reduce consumer confusion and minimize unnecessary food waste, is spearheaded by FMI and GMA who worked with an advisory group consisting of the 25 retailer and manufacturer members of the FMI/GMA Trading Partner Alliance, Andrew Harig, FMI’s senior director of sustainability, tax and trade told SN.
Retailers and manufacturers are encouraged to immediately begin phasing in the common wording with widespread adoption urged by the summer of 2018. The companies represented on the advisory board are in the process of implementing the changes, Harig said.
He noted that challenges associated with making the switch will vary from company to company.
“For some it’s very straightforward and can be implemented in short order with pretty minimal costs, for others it may be [more complicated] and they may face a longer term process,” he said. “That’s part of the reason why we tied this to coincide with implementation for Facts Up Front and Nutrition Facts labeling. This will help minimize costs to retailers, manufacturers and consumers.”
ShopRite is among the retailers on board with the initiative.
“The customer comes first in our business, and this voluntary industry initiative provides shoppers with clear, easily understood date label information, so our customers can be confident in the product’s quality and safety,” said Joe Colalillo, president of ShopRite of Hunterdon County and chairman and CEO of Wakefern Food Corp., in a statement.
“Food retailers and manufacturers are working towards the common goal of bringing consistency and greater clarity in product date label messaging. We want to ensure our customers have meaningful information that helps them make the
best decisions for their families, both in the store when they shop and when they enjoy foods at home.”
The language switch will be publicized with a consumer education campaign, said Harig. Its launch will be based on the speed with which retailers and manufacturers adopt the suggested language.
“The consumer education campaign will be a pivotal part of making sure the program is successful,” he said. “The point is to end the confusion but we have to launch a campaign to bring it along.”
About 44% of food waste sent to landfills comes from consumers and addressing consumer confusion around product date labeling could reduce total national food waste by about 8% according to FMI and GMA.
The use of date labels is mostly unregulated with the exception of infant formula and certain state-based laws, according to Harig.
“Right now if you don’t use a date you’re not required to use a data but if you choose to use one to indicate quality or perishability, we’re requesting that you use one of the two terms,” he said.