WASHINGTON – The US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 30 percent of food is lost or wasted by retailers or consumers. In an effort to change this wasteful trend, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued updated information on food product labeling, including directives for food manufacturers and retailers to use “Best if Used By” date labels.
Since 2009, USDA has had an ongoing mission to reduce food waste. In 2013, USDA the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the US Food Waste Challenge, in which leaders and organizations throughout the food chain began to share best practices regarding reducing, recovering and recycling food loss and waste. In late 2015, the USDA announced its first national food waste reduction goal of halving food waste by 2030.
|Al Almanza, USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety|
“In an effort to reduce food loss and waste, these changes will give consumers clear and consistent information when it comes to date labeling on the food they buy,” said Al Almanza, USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety. “This new guidance can help consumers save money and curb the amount of wholesome food going in the trash.”
Currently, product dating is not required by federal regulations, except in the case of infant formula. Manufacturers oftentimes voluntarily choose to use “sell-by” or “use-by” labels to help consumers identify food quality. Unfortunately, the use of different phrases to describe quality dates has caused consumer confusion and has led to the disposal of food that is otherwise edible and safe because it is past the date printed on the package, according to USDA.
The new recommendation from FSIS is to use a “Best if Used By” label instead of “sell-by” and “use-by” because research shows that this phrase is better understood by consumers – and it refers to food quality, rather than product safety.
This new labeling guideline is part of USDA’s efforts to encourage food donation and reduce food waste. In January 2016, FSIS Directive 7020.1 made it easier for companies to donate products that have minor labeling errors, such as an incorrect net weight. Another initiative allowed food banks to break down bulk shipments of federally-inspected meat or poultry products, wrap or rewrap those products, and label the products for distribution to consumers. As a result, in 2016, FSIS enabled 2.6 million lbs. of manufacturer donations.
Comments on this revised guidance may be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov or by mail to the US Dept. of Agriculture, FSIS, Docket Clerk, Patriots Plaza III, 355 E St. S.W., 8-163A, Mailstop 3782, Washington, DC 20250-3700. All comments submitted must include docket number FSIS-2016-0044. FSIS will accept comments for 60 days.