Confused by “Sell-by” and “Use-by” food labels? Changes are on the way for meat, eggs, dairy products.

Eggs are among products slated to have less confusing labels.

Eggs are among products slated to have less confusing labels.

If you’re confused by the various labels used on foods, such as “Sell-by” and “Use-by,” simplification is on the way, the U.S. Department  of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said.

The agency is asking food manufacturers to start using a universal “Best if Used By” date label. The changes should start showing up on products in early 2017.

The new guidelines are aimed at reducing food waste. The action covers eggs, meat and dairy products. Currently, there are roughly 50 different versions of labels being used.

USDA estimates that 30 percent of food is lost or wasted at the retail and consumer level.

“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,” said Al Almanza, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. “This new guidance can help consumers save money and curb the amount of wholesome food going in the trash.”

Except for infant formula, dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety and are not required by Federal law.

The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the sale of all other food products (such as canned foods and produce), has not yet taken similar action.

Dana Gunders, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council and  author of the  Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook, said,

“This will help keep perfectly good food from getting tossed in the trash. USDA is rallying the industry around one commonsense label so consumers will know that food is still safe to eat even past the printed date. This will not only mean less wasted food, but also less wasted water, climate pollution and money. The FDA should follow suit on the food it oversees so all products will have the same easy-to-follow date labels.”

The U.S. is throwing away $162 billion worth of food each year. That’s a problem that’s costing the average American family of four roughly $1,500 every year. Yet, at the same time, one in eight Americans is food insecure, the NRDC said.

Studies show that up to 90 percent of Americans are misinterpreting date labels and throwing food away prematurely, under the misconception that it’s necessary to protect their families’ health.

When good food goes to waste, so do all of the resources used to grow, store and transport it, the NRDC said.

  • If global food loss and waste was a country, it would have the world’s largest greenhouse gas footprint after the U.S. and China.
  • 28 percent of the world’s agricultural land—an area larger than Canada—is used to grow food that never gets eaten.
  • In the U.S., 25 percent of our nation’s fresh water goes into producing food that is never eaten.
  • Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste in U.S. landfills.

Last year, the Obama administration set a target for reducing U.S. food waste 50 percent nationwide by 2030. The United Nations issued a similar goal days later. With consumers responsible for the bulk of food waste in America, and misleading date labels a key cause of consumer confusion, this action can help reach those goals.

Comments on this revised guidance may be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov 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. FSIS will accept comments for 60 days.

 

 

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