- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service released updated guidance on food product labeling Wednesday, according to a news release.
- FSIS recommends that manufacturers use food quality labels that read "Best if Used By." Research has demonstrated that "this phrase is easily understood by consumers as an indicator of quality, rather than safety," the agency claimed in the news release.
- Federal regulations do not currently mandate the phrasing of quality dates on food or beverage product packaging, such as "sell by" and "use by," except for infant formula. This has caused confusion among consumers and led to unnecessary food waste, the USDA said.
With this announcement, the industry has taken a different approach from what Congress had suggested earlier this year. Last December, legislation proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives known as the Food Recovery Act of 2015 would mandate consistency across code date labeling terminology.
However, that bill has yet to become law, and its chances in the waning 114th Congress are not promising. Now the USDA has stepped in to offer guidance, which the industry could follow, but there is no mandate. The question now is whether enough manufacturers will abide by this guidance for it to be effective at the retail and consumer level, where most unnecessary food waste occurs.
Nestle and General Mills voiced their support of the date labeling legislation earlier this year, so it wouldn't be surprising for them to abide by this guidance voluntarily. Still, it's unclear how many other companies will be onboard for label changes or alterations.