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Trade groups move to clear confusion over ''sell by'' dates

17 February 2017

The majority of US citizens had no clear idea what "sell by" labels meant, but the grocery industry was now taking moves to clear up the confusion.

The Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the two largest trade groups for the grocery industry, yesterday announced adoption of standardised, voluntary regulations aimed at clearing what product date labels mean.

Instead of the 10 separate label phrases, they had been using including ''expires on'' and ''better if used by,'' manufacturers would now be required to use only two phrases, ''Use By'' and ''Best if Used By''.

The former indicated when perishable foods were no longer good, while ''Best if Used By'' was a quality descriptor, a subjective guess of when the manufacturer thought the product should be consumed for peak flavour.

According to commentators, most  ''use-by'' dates now indicated, the date that products could be consumed for peak flavour though many consumers believed they signalled whether a product was okay to eat. They added, it was totally fine to eat a product even well after its so-called expiration date.

 ''I think it's huge. It's just an enormous step,'' said Emily Broad-Leib, the director of Harvard's Food Law and Policy Clinic, The Pittsburg Post Gazette reported. ''It's still a first step - but it's very significant.''

Meanwhile, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said on its site, "Retailers and manufacturers are encouraged to immediately begin phasing in the common wording with widespread adoption urged by the summer of 2018.

"Broad industry adoption of this new voluntary standard will occur over time so companies have flexibility to make the changes in a way that ensures consistency across their product categories.

''Our product code dating initiative is the latest example of how retailers and manufacturers are stepping up to help consumers and to reduce food waste,'' said Pamela G Bailey, GMA president and CEO."

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