Considering that elements of food packaging have been coming under greater regulatory control, from the nutrition facts panel to the word "healthy" and soon the genetically modified status of an item, it's perhaps a little surprising that the "use by" date is not standardized for most kinds of items. When U.S. consumers pick up food at the supermarket, they have to wonder whether they are receiving a suggestion about when a food will taste best or a severe safety warning.
Polling and Suggestions
According to Food Ingredients First, a Grocery Manufacturers Network study carried out with the Food Policy Action Network revealed that the current state of dating on foods – with no standardized pattern for most foods – is a cause of confusion. This ambiguity has created conversations – the study revealed that nearly 60 percent of respondents admitted they had discussed the meaning of food labels. Since brands use a number of different wordings and date systems for their items, there is no easy fix for explaining what the labels mean – standardization seems critical.
There is a voluntary effort to get more brands onto a normalized system of freshness labeling, as Food Ingredients First noted. The program, which this blog has mentioned before, went into place in February and was created by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute as a joint effort.
According to Food Ingredients First, the voluntary labeling system only contains two phrases, with "best if used by" denoting a product that may become less fresh and tasty after a specific date and "Use by" being more serious and stating that people should not use a product after that date, with no wiggle room. The latter phrase is for products that might pose serious risks over time.
According to Waste Dive, the New Jersey State Senate's Energy Committee is acting to push legislation forward that would create a more normalized dating system. It would have "quality dates" and "elevated risk dates," similar to the GMA rules. The difference in this case would be that the New Jersey bill would create legal consequences instead of being an optional add-on. The bill also contains education for the general public, to cut through the confusion that currently reigns.
When companies decide to change the labeling style of their food products, whether to get in line with a standard or to follow their own guidance, they may find the process more efficient if they own their own label printers in house. The Afinia L801 is one such printer, and you can see it on our U.S. site or our Canadian page.