"Best before," "best if used by," "sell by," "use or freeze by," "better if used by..."
What does it all mean? Presumably, these words all mean different things, but they are only a few of the dozen or so confusing product date labels currently used on US food packaging.
Are these messages for grocers or consumers? Will I die if I drink this milk that doesn't really smell bad, but has passed its expiration date? What is an expiration date, anyway? Ultimately, these labels leave consumers with more questions than answers, and contribute to the $162 billion of food thrown out every year in America.
But now, thanks to the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute, the 14 labels currently used by American companies will be reduced to to just two.
A press release from the assocation outlines the new, streamlined labeling system. "BEST If Used By" would describe product quality, where "the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to use or consume," whereas "USE By" would apply to products that are "highly perishable and/or have a food safety concern over time; these products should be consumed by the date listed on the package—and disposed of after that date."
In other words, there are foods that are still edible after their date, and others which could actually fuck you up; one is an imperative, and the other is a suggestion.
As great as this sounds for consumers, the system proposed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute will be entirely voluntary. But for the team behind the proposal, it's still in the best interest of retailers to do so.
"Eliminating confusion for consumers by using common product date wording is a win-win because it means more products will be used instead of thrown away in error," Jack Jeffers, Vice President of Quality at Dean Foods, which led GMA's work on this issue, said in a press release. "It's much better that these products stay in the kitchen and out of landfills."
So, with any luck, we may be able to kick both consumer confusion and food waste in the ass in one fell swoop.