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    Standardized Date Labeling

    Diversion Potential:
    398K Tons

    Economic Value Per Ton:
    $4,547

    GHGs Reduced:
    1,593K Tons

    Water Saved:
    192B Gallons

    Date Labeling Standardization Tool

    ReFED's Date Labeling Working Group developed a tool to promote the accelerated adoption of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute's voluntary date labeling standards by helping manufacturers determine which label to use for different products. We created a draft of this tool in consultation with over 40 food safety experts and are seeking input from additional stakeholders to refine the tool before its formal release.

    Beta test the Tool

    If you have expertise in food date labeling, quality assurance, or food safety, we welcome your review of the tool - please send feedback by August 31, 2017.

    Please download the Date Labeling Standardization Tool, Guidelines, and feedback questionnaire below. Please send the completed questionnaire to Eva Goulbourne, Director of Business & Multistakeholder Programs at [email protected] or take the questionnaire online.

    Thank you in advance for your interest in this initiative and for your time and thoughtful commentary.

    Definition

    Standardizing food label dates, including eliminating visible “sell by” dates, to reduce consumer confusion

    Overview

    Current date labeling practices on food packaging cause confusion with “sell-by,” “best-by,” “use-by,” and “best before” dates, leading up to 90% of Americans to occasionally throw out still-fresh food. Confusion over the meaning of date labels is estimated to account for 20% of consumer waste of safe, edible food. This equates to approximately $29 billion of wasted consumer spending each year — 5% to 10% of this is expected to be impacted by standardized date labels.

    Challenges

    • There is no comprehensive national regulation or government agency with the direct mandate to regulate food date labeling for safety and perishability.
    • Consumers face a confusing array of labels and phrasing that differ widely based on varied state laws and manufacturer preferences.
    • The cost for changing the date labels is negligible, but manufacturers have little incentive to change their practices because date label standardization would do little to lower costs, increase revenues, or reduce liability.
    • Retailers could push for standardization from manufacturers, but would need to collaborate with others to represent enough market share to drive manufacturers to change. There may be an opportunity for retailers to reduce operational and food costs associated with pulling near-expired product from shelves. Additional research is needed to quantify this potential benefit.
    • Retailers and manufacturers consistently cite uncertainty regarding the design of standardized labels and wording, as well as skepticism of its widespread impact on consumer behavior, as two reasons for not moving forward on a voluntary approach.
    • Nineteen states restrict sale of products after the date on the label has passed, even though the majority have no safety risk associated with the date. In addition to wasted food, this leads to fines when retailers have past-date products in their stores.

    Stakeholder Actions

    • Changes to date labels require little upfront investment from businesses and can be enacted unilaterally by large food companies to reduce consumer confusion. The best path forward is for a voluntary agreement of manufacturers to implement consistent language.
    • If a voluntary agreement is not forthcoming, a multi-stakeholder approach is recommended to overcome inertia and achieve true standardization. This multi-stakeholder approach should aim to de-risk any industry concerns by working with consumer behavior experts to determine the best language for labels, develop a process for measuring if the implemented change is leading to the desired results, and fund consumer education to go alongside the change.
    • In the absence of a voluntary commitment from industry, ReFED recommends that the federal government update existing FDA regulations to standardize date label wording. The federal government could also fund consumer education about these new date labeling practices in partnership with other private and public sector organizations.
    • In addition, states should revoke restrictions on sale or donation after the date on the label. This could also be achieved through federal legislation.

    Examples & Resources

    • Food Recovery Act

      The Food Recovery Act, currently proposed and pending (as of February 2016) by Rep. Chellie Pingree, recommends standardizing labels with the phrase “Best if Used By,” followed by “Manufacturer’s Suggestion Only” and a standard “Expires On” date required for the small number of items determined by the FDA to have food safety risks.

    • Voluntary Changes

      Some manufacturers have experimented with adding “freeze by” language onto packaging to encourage customers to take active steps to preserve food in the freezer instead of throwing it in the trash.


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