Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a public letter urging the food industry to get behind standardizing the phrase, “Best If Used By” on food product date labels. The missive cites confusion among consumers between that and similarly used phrases such as “Use By” or “Sell By” as indicated by a 2007 survey which found that less than half of shoppers polled were able to distinguish between the three. The survey also found that food waste was a common result of this confusion since shoppers were not sure when to dispose of food products and this uncertainty accounts for around 20 percent of consumer food waste.

In an excerpt from the letter, Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response at the FDA wrote, “To help reduce consumer confusion and food waste, the USDA update encouraged food manufacturers and retailers who want to apply a quality-based date label to use the ‘Best If Used By’ introductory phrase to convey to consumers that the product will be of best quality if used by the calendar date shown. Further, USDA emphasized that foods not exhibiting signs of spoilage should be wholesome and may be sold, purchased, donated and consumed beyond the labeled ‘Best If Used By’ date.” Yiannas continued, “As approximately 80% of the foods in the US are regulated by the FDA, we would like to inform our regulated food industries that FDA strongly supports industry’s voluntary industrywide efforts to use the “Best if Used By” introductory phrase when choosing to include a quality-based date label to indicate when a product will be at its best flavor and quality.”

The full FDA letter may be read here: