Controversy over product dating is not new. With three government agencies coming together in support, can change be in the wind? And how will this affect labeling?
Up until now, the food industry has functioned with voluntary guidelines regarding expiration dates on product labels. While the Grocery Manufacturers Association noted that some clarity was brought to the practice in 2017, when GMA and the Food Marketing Institute teamed up to narrow down the different varieties of dating formats to only two, full and uniform adoption is still not here. As a result, many consumers remain in the dark regarding food freshness and safety.
Government Encouraging Consistent Dating
In an unprecedented move, three U.S. agencies teamed up in October 2018 to chart a different course from the industry-instituted system in place since 2017. The Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture hope that by working together they can help end the confusion that currently exists in the marketplace.
Although the collaboration ostensibly focuses more on reducing food waste, one of its goals, as cited on the EPA website, is to "clarify and communicate information on food safety, food date labels, and food donations." As the government strategy statement explains, the present chaos leads to food loss and waste for merchants and customers. Through "clearer, coordinated voluntary guidance on food date labels and liability protection," the government hopes that food waste and insecurity could be reduced. One of the initiative's spin-off documents, "A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste By 20%," specifically calls out standardized date labeling as one particular tactic to reach that goal.
The Food Industry Watches And Waits
Packaging Digest reported that consumer brands and their packaging partners will keep a close watch on the government's date labeling recommendations. In an interview with Packaging Digest, Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for Food Policy and Response, said that the FDA is encouraging manufacturers to use the phrase "Best If Used By" as a route to consistent terminology. Yiannas added that research has shown this wording best communicates to shoppers that the date denotes "optimal quality, not the safety of the food." In other words, he said, food products do not have to be discarded when they reach that date if they've been stored correctly and have no indication of spoilage.
Whether changes to how dates are handled in product packaging come about through industry guidelines, such as the Product Code Date Labeling Implementation Guide created by the Food Marketing Institute, or through new government regulations, there is a good possibility that food labels will evolve in the months and years ahead – for the benefit of consumers, producers and retailers.
If you're in the process of updating your product labels to keep up with government regulations, a helpful place to begin is viewing our high-quality label printers at Argon Technology's U.S. store or Canada page.