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New Poll Shows Consumer Confusion Abounds Over Date labels

  • As previously covered on this blog, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) launched an initiative this past February to streamline and standardize the wording accompanying the date labels on packages to offer greater clarity regarding the quality and safety of products.  The new voluntary initiative calls for the use of just two standard phrases:
    • “BEST If Used By” – to describe product quality where the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to use or consume; and
    • “USE By” – which would apply to the few products that are highly perishable and/or have a food safety concern over time; these products should be consumed by the date listed on the package – and disposed of after that date.
  • A recent poll by GMA and the Food Policy Action Network found that the current range of variations of date labels such as “best by, use by, sell by, use or freeze by” on food products around the country is problematic for consumers.  Key poll findings include:
    • Nearly 60 percent of Americans have discussed the meaning of date labels on their food
    • 40 percent of adults say they have had disagreements within their household over whether a food product should be kept or thrown away
    • Older Americans are slightly more likely to keep food longer, while younger Americans are more likely to throw food away earlier based on the date label.
    • More men say they are the ones in the household arguing to keep food longer; 64 percent of men make this claim, versus 56 percent of women.
  • Following on these poll findings, GMA’s Director of Sustainability stated that “clarity on product date labeling will reduce confusion . . .  [and] cut food waste.” Broad industry adoption of the voluntary date labeling standard launched by GMA and FMI is expected to occur over time to allow companies flexibility to make the changes in a way that ensures consistency across their product categories.  It remains to be seen if FDA and/or USDA will ultimately choose to issue regulations tracking the date labeling terminology proffered by GMA and FMI.
© 2020 Keller and Heckman LLPNational Law Review, Volume VII, Number 216



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Keller and Heckman offers global food and drug services to its clients. Our comprehensive and extensive food and drug practice is one of the largest in the world. We promote, protect, and defend products made by the spectrum of industries regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Commission and Member States authorities in the European Union (EU) and similar authorities throughout the world. The products we help get to market include foods, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, veterinary products, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. In addition...