Last week, the Food & Drug Administration issued a letter to the food industry saying that it supports industry efforts to standardize the language used to describe freshness dates on food labels.

Noting that food waste is a major concern in the United States, the FDA said that consumers often throw away food due to misunderstanding about the meaning of the introductory phrases -- such as "Best If Used By," "Use By," and "Sell By" -- used on product date labels. The FTC said that confusion over date labeling may lead to twenty percent of consumer food waste.

In order to standardize the language used on packaging, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, along with other food manufacturers and retailers, recently recommended the use of two date-related phrases on packaging -- "Best If Used By" and "Use By." The phrase, "Best If Used By," indicates that after a specified date, the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to be used or consumed. The phrase "Use By" indicates that the product is perishable and should be discarded after the specified date.

In its letter to industry, the FDA said it strongly supports industry adoption of the "Best If Used By" phrase when choosing to indicate "when a product will be at its best flavor and quality." The FDA did not express an opinion, however, on the use of the phrase "Use By."

{ "standardizing the use of date labels for quality reasons is encouraged as a best practice"