Endorsed June 13, 2017

Food Retailers seek to provide their consumers with clear information to assist food purchase decisions and with relevant guidance regarding the sensible use of the products shoppers have purchased.  To this end, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) recommends voluntary industry–wide adoption of a standard use of two Product Code Date Label phrases on packaging:

“BEST If Used By” or “BEST If Used or Freeze By” as an indication of product quality, which may be truncated to BEST Byfor small packages or “BB” for very small packages. The “BEST If Used By” quality date is intended to indicate to the consumer that, after a specified date, the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to use or consume. Note: the word BEST is in all CAPS.

 “USE By” or “USE or Freeze By” for those limited perishable products, which may be subject to a material degradation of critical performance (e.g., nutritional or SPF declaration) or potential food safety concern. The “USE By” phrase and associated date would be reserved for a small segment of time and temperature sensitive products that should be consumed by the date on the package due to the product’s perishable nature. Note: the word USE is all CAPS.

This recommendation is consistent with the guidance from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) released in December, 2016, calling on manufacturers and retailers to use the phrase “Best If Used By” to reduce consumer confusion and unnecessary food waste.

FMI Board members believe that adherence to these standard sets of date code language will enhance consumer understanding regarding the interpretation and use of product dates, possibly helping reduce unnecessary consumer food waste.

Furthermore, the FMI Board of Directors believes food retailers should collaborate with other stakeholders and interested partners in public facing campaigns directed at educating and empowering consumers to better understand and interpret product dates, in an effort to enhance their enjoyment of the food they purchase and to reduce food waste.

Supplemental guidance regarding the Voluntary Standard for Streamlined code dating language:

  • In addition to the two standard phrases “BEST If Used By” or “BEST If Used or Freeze By” for product quality and “USE By” or “USE or Freeze By”  for material degradation factors,  supplemental handling instructions may be included on product packaging, such as “Use within seven days of opening” language. This additional information furthers the goal of providing U.S. consumers with information and constructive guidance regarding the prudent use of purchased food products
  • In rare instances, additional information for retail employees may be used including “packed on” language to provide store associates with stocking and rotation guidance. This would be for highly perishable food products such as sliced deli meat.
  • “Sell By” will be phased out of use by the CPG and retail industries.