By: Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO, Food Marketing Institute20151208-FMI-385-WEB -FMI Preferred Language

Frank Yiannis, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deputy commissioner of food policy and response, gave FMI’s and GMA’s joint initiative urging industry-wide adoption of standard date-label language a ringing endorsement in his recent letter to the industry, stating the agency’s strong support of food company’s voluntary efforts. The collaborative work on this issue seeks to reduce consumer confusion surrounding the assorted vernacular used in reference to date labels by encouraging the industry-wide adoption of standard date label language. Now both USDA and FDA have endorsed “BEST If Used By” as the preferred date label language to be used on the majority of grocery store products where the intended consumer guidance is in reference to product quality. 

Yiannis’ letter makes the point that some 20% of consumer food waste can be attributed to our customers’ misunderstanding of date labels and premature discard of viable food. Our hope is that clarifying the date-label language will result in improved shopper understanding that the “BEST If Used By” guidance refers to quality and the product is safe to eat beyond its date but may not offer optimum taste. Clarification of the messaging associated with the date imprint and assistance to the consumer in better interpreting date labels should help prevent the unnecessary discarding of products that  are still perfectly appropriate for consumption, but have simply passed their period of peak performance.  

It should be noted that our date label initiative also recommended adoption of standard language “USE by” for those few grocery items susceptible to material degradation to the extent it is unwise to consume them beyond the date stamp. FDA indicated the agency wants additional time to examine this demarcation as it carries more significant implications and is a more difficult one to determine.

Work on this project began in 2017 under the purview of the Trading Partner Alliance, a retailer-manufacturer collaboration body comprised of Board member executives from FMI and GMA. A special  word of thanks goes out to Joe Colalillo of ShopRite of Hunterdon County, Inc. for his leadership as retail co-chair of the TPA Product Code Dating Committee.

In a note I wrote to Frank Yiannis to thank him for his supportive words and leadership in the date label area, which pre-dates his work at FDA, I expressed FMI’s intent to keep him apprised of our efforts to educate consumers and increase adoption of the standardized date labels. We also expressed our desire to coordinate consumer-facing educational efforts with FDA to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

Below, please find links to FMI resources, our press release and FDA’s letter to the industry regarding the product code date labeling initiative.