In a country that’s blessed with an abundance of almost every food possible, waste remains a complex and troubling issue. Each year, the United States discards 133 billion lbs — or more than $161 billion worth — of food. That’s nearly one-third of the available food supply. One part of the problem involves label confusion, specifically about the date in which food should be used.
“The prevailing wisdom of ‘if in doubt, throw it out’ is resulting in tremendous food waste,” according to a recent report by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (G.M.A.).
Initially, the G.M.A. and the Food Marketing Institute gathered leading food manufacturers and retailers to address the problem and recommended in February 2017 to narrow down or voluntary standardizing date labeling to “Best If Used By” and “Use By.” Basically, “Best If Used By” indicates items may not taste or perform as expected but can still be consumed. “Use By” applies to perishable foods that should be consumed by the date on the package or then discarded.
Since the initiative began, 87% of products have adopted the streamlined phrases, according to a G.M.A. December 2018 survey. The association projected a 98% adoption rate by the end of 2019, and it expected complete adoption by January 2020 in conjunction with the expected F.D.A. Nutrition Facts label updates. The G.M.A. noted that voluntarily standardizing the two date labels may not only reduce consumer confusion about when to toss out food, but also allow the food industry — not the government — to address this labeling.
The G.M.A. called standardized terms a proactive common-sense solution.
“They had a quick effect and promise to have a lasting impact,” the report concluded. It’s a good first start to a big issue.