Dec 28, 2016 | EcoSure Food Safety Monitor

By Miriam Eisenberg, MS, RD, CP-FS

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  7. USDA Suggests "Best if used by" Labeling to Help Decrease Food Waste

I am often posed questions about "use by," "best by," and "sell by" labels. Although infant formula is the only food product that must carry product dating under current federal law, many food companies include some "expiration" information on packaging of other products.

However, a lack of uniformity in the date coding on food leaves many wondering how long food can safely be stored, according to a news release from USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). New labeling guidance from the USDA that is designed to decrease waste by resolving consumer confusion about “best by” and “sell by” dates on food may also boost food safety practices by providing more specific information.

“Food manufacturers frequently use a variety of phrases, such as ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ on product labels to describe quality dates on a voluntary basis. The use of different phrases to describe quality dates has caused consumer confusion and has led to the disposal of food that is otherwise wholesome and safe because it is past the date printed on the package,” according to the FSIS. “FSIS is changing its guidance to recommend the use of ‘Best if Used By’ because research shows that this phrase is easily understood by consumers as an indicator of quality.” A question for you and your company is “Does this clarify the issue for you?”

The USDA estimates that 30% of food is lost or wasted at the retail and consumer level. The new guidance suggesting use of the “Best if Used By” language builds on other recent changes FSIS has made to facilitate food donation and reduce food waste.

Since 2009, USDA has launched new and ongoing initiatives to reduce food waste. In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, creating a platform for leaders and organizations across the food chain to share best practices on ways to reduce, recover, and recycle food loss and waste. In 2015, USDA and EPA set the first-ever national food waste reduction goal of 50 percent by 2030 to reduce the amount of wasted food in landfills.

“In an effort to reduce food loss and waste, these changes will give consumers clear and consistent information when it comes to date labeling on the food they buy,” Al Almanza, USDA Deputy Under-Secretary for Food Safety said in the news release. “This new guidance can help consumers save money and curb the amount of wholesome food going in the trash.”

Do you feel like this gives you the information you need to determine the shelf-life of the products you are using? (Note: this should not be confused with raw, unpackaged TCS foods with a mandated seven- day shelf-life.) 

The government is accepting comments on the revised labeling guidance from USDA through February 7, 2017. Comments on this revised guidance may be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at or by mail to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, FSIS, Docket Clerk, Patriots Plaza III, 355 E St. S.W., 8-163A, Mailstop 3782, Washington, DC 20250-3700. All comments submitted must include docket number FSIS-2016-0044. Here is the direct link to comment on food product dating on the Federal eRulemaking Portal.