By: David Fikes, Vice President, Consumer/Community Affairs and Communication, Food Marketing Institute
The FMI Board of Directors adopted a new board policy on Product Code Date Labeling that aligns with the voluntary industry-wide effort to establish standard date-label wording on packaging for shelf-stable and perishable food products. The new policy supports the food retail industry’s effort to reduce consumer confusion about product date labels and help shoppers make better personal use of the food product dates. The policy states that 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 By” for 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 Sun Protection Factor declaration) or potential food safety concern. The “USE By” phrase and associated date would be 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 in all CAPS.
This new Product Code Date Labeling Policy replaces two previous FMI board policies regarding product date labels, one entitled Retailer Applied Product Dates, adopted January 11, 2003, and the other entitled Non-Perishable Packaged Food Product Dates, adopted May 1, 2004. In January, 2017, the Trading Partner Alliance – comprised of the Executive Committees of Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and FMI—endorsed a voluntary industry-wide initiative to standardize product code date labeling language.
A TPA working group that oversees this initiative is at work creating an implementation guide to clarify target implementation dates, provide further information about truncation options, and explore acceptable additional consumer-facing language that may be included on specific products. The working group is also laying the groundwork for a consumer-facing education campaign for 2018 to offer instruction to shoppers on how to make the best use of the new date label language.