Standardized Date Labeling on Food: Not Required but Highly Recommended
Updated: Nov 22, 2018
In making our top predictions for the industry for 2017, it seems that we missed what is turning out to be a key industry initiative this year: food labeling. As food manufacturers begin updating their labels in advance of the July 2018 compliance date for FDA's Final Rule on Revision of the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels, a number of questions are coming to light.
One question that TAG has received is:
Q. Do the new FDA labeling regulations require that the current “Best By” labeling be changed to “Best If Used By” or “Use By”?
A. No. However, USDA and a FMI/GMA initiative are both recommending “Best If Used By” labeling to depict best quality of nonperishable foods, and the FMI/GMA initiative further recommends “Use By” labeling for foods that are highly perishable and may have a safety concern over time.
That was the short answer. To provide more detail on the regulation, recommendation, and initiative:
The FDA Regulation. In May, 2016, FDA published the final rule that updated the information that is required to be on the Nutrition Facts labels for packaged foods. The purpose was to reflect new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease, and to make it easier for consumers to make informed food choices. Companies may start updating labels any time, with all foods to have the updated labels by July 26, 2018, or July 26, 2019 for manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales. (For more information on the regulation, see the TAG newsletter: FDA Provides Information to Assist Industry with New Nutrition Facts Label.) Although FDA did get queries about including expiration date and wording requirements in the regulation, generally speaking, these topics are distinct from, and beyond the scope of, FDA's final rule. Thus, the new labeling regulations do not cover expiration date requirements, such as best by dates.
The USDA Recommendation. In a Q&A, most recently modified December 14, 2016, USDA states that for meat, poultry, and egg products under the jurisdiction of its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), dates may be voluntarily applied, provided they are labeled with month and day (and year for shelf-stable and frozen products) and an explanatory phrase. To reduce consumer confusion and wasted food, FSIS recommends that food manufacturers and retailers that apply product dating use "Best If Used By."
The FMI/GMA Initiative. In February, the Food Marking Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) launched a joint initiative to reduce consumer confusion about product date labels. The voluntary industry initiative streamlines the vast array of expiration label wording on consumer food packaging down to just two standard phrases:
Best If Used By – Used to designate quality. After the date listed, the food may not taste the same or perform as expected, but it is safety to use and consume.
Use By - Applies to products that are highly perishable and/or have a food safety concern over time. These foods should be consumed by the date listed on the package and disposed of after that date.
We consider the FMI and GMA initiative to be a good industry practice. Even though clear date labeling is not a regulatory requirement, it is an opportunity for the food industry to address the issue of food waste, and we think that is something consumers will appreciate.
About The Acheson Group (TAG)
Led by Former FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods Dr. David Acheson, TAG is a food safety consulting group that provides guidance and expertise worldwide for companies throughout the food supply chain. With in-depth industry knowledge combined with real-world experience, TAG's team of food safety experts help companies more effectively mitigate risk, improve operational efficiencies, and ensure regulatory and standards compliance. www.AchesonGroup.com