FDA Settles on ‘Best if Used by’ Label

It’s an attempt to alleviate consumer confusion about expiration dates on packaged foods.

May 28, 2019

WASHINGTON–The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has rendered its decision on food expiration date labels on shelf-stable, packaged foods after a two-year effort by industry officials and advocacy groups. The agency favors a single designation to guide consumers: “Best if used by,” the Washington Post reports.

Food product makers use a confusing array of more than 50 descriptions on grocery items: “use before,” “sell by,” “expires on.” The inconsistent labeling leaves consumers unsure if the food is safe to eat and/or tastes better before the label date and contributes to overall food waste.

The new labeling guidance applies to food quality, not food safety. The FDA opinion is not binding on industry: Food producers still have the autonomy to put date labels on their products as they choose.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has similar recommendations for the voluntary date labels on perishable products, such as meat, poultry and eggs.

“We worked with consumers about which label conveys the information best, and consumers overwhelmingly chose ‘best if used by,’” said Frank Yiannas, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response. “If there’s a date label that’s about a food-safety issue, at this point they have the latitude to put whatever terminology they need to convey that risk.”

The FDA endorsement can help American families save money and reduce food waste. In fact, 42% of waste occurs in consumers’ homes, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council and Wasted. The U.S. Department of Agriculture puts the total price tag on the estimated 133 billion pounds of wasted food at $161 billion.