WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2016 – USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) wants food manufacturers and retailers to use a “Best if Used by” date label on their products instead of frequently used phrases such as “Sell by” and “Use by” as a way of reducing food waste.
FSIS says it’s changing its guidance because research shows that the phrase “Best if Used by” is easily understood by consumers as an indicator of quality, rather than safety.
“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, product dating is not required by federal regulations, FSIS explained in a release. Food manufacturers frequently use a variety of phrases, including “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.
USDA estimates that 30 percent of food is lost or wasted at the retail and consumer level. FSIS points out that this new guidance builds on other recent changes FSIS has made to facilitate food donation and reduce food waste. In January, the agency issued Directive 7020.1, which made it easier for companies to donate products that have minor labeling errors, such as an incorrect net weight. FSIS has also begun recognizing food banks as “retail-type” establishments, which allows food banks (under certain circumstances) to break down bulk shipments of federally-inspected meat or poultry products, wrap or rewrap those products, and label the products for distribution to consumers. In 2016, FSIS enabled 2.6 million pounds of manufacturer donations.
The public is invited to comment on the guidance for 60 days. Comments 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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