Changing Product Labels Could Drastically Reduce Food Waste

By now, it’s no secret that we waste billions of tons of food every year. There are a lot of factors contributing to our food waste problem, but one that’s easy to fix is the date that companies print on packaged foods.

Food expiration dates—with labels like sell by, use before or best before—can be confusing and lead to consumers tossing perfectly good food into the trash. That’s why a group of 400 international companies—called The Consumer Goods Forum—is working to make this label more clear, so you can truly use it to navigate your food’s safety.

Right now, when you pull a container of hummus out of the fridge, it could use any of more than 10 of terms to tell you how long it’s safe to eat. This is called food product dating, and it’s actually not required by law in the U.S., except in the case of infant formula.

Simplifying food expiration dates could drastically reduce food waste.

Simplifying food expiration dates could drastically reduce food waste.

The Consumer Goods Forum is building on an initiative started by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). It’s a voluntary standard aimed at eliminating all but two of these terms from food product dating, so you’ll only see one of two terms on packaged food:

  1. Best If Used By – This is about freshness, not safety. Bread is a good example. Bread labeled “Best if Used by October 15th” is still safe to eat on October 16th, it just might taste a bit stale.
  2. Use By – For products that are very perishable, the Use By label is a hard stop. Food companies are saying that something labeled “Use by October 15th” is no longer safe to eat on October 16th.

GMA, FMI and The Consumer Goods Forum is pushing retailers to start using only these two terms by summer of 2018.

Right now, 44 percent of food waste is consumer-generated, and an FMI press release about the new labeling initiative says, “statistics show that addressing consumer confusion around product date labeling could reduce total national food waste by just 8 percent.”

This isn’t the first time that food product dating has come up in the food waste conversation. A 2015 report from UK non-profit, Waste & Resources Action Program (WRAP), found that extending the “sell by” date on food by just one day would keep 50 million pounds of food out of landfills in the UK alone. The current upcoming label change doesn’t include extending those dates.

Related at Care2

The use by, sell by, or best by date can be confusing and lead to consumers tossing perfectly good food into the trash.

All images via Thinkstock.


Mike R
Mike R8 days ago


hELEN h2 months ago


Sue H
Sue H9 months ago

We should be able to rely on labels not wonder what they mean.

Barbara M
Past Member 10 months ago


Marija M
Marija Mohoric10 months ago


David C
David C10 months ago


Peggy B
Peggy B11 months ago


Mia G
Past Member 11 months ago


Danuta W
Danuta W11 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Lisa M
Lisa M11 months ago