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‘Best If Used By’ should stem food wastage, recommends USDA

Gill Hyslop

By Gill Hyslop+

19-Dec-2016

Have your say on the USDA's suggest product dating guidelines aimed to quell food wastage. Pic: ©iStock/Nenov
Have your say on the USDA's suggest product dating guidelines aimed to quell food wastage. Pic: ©iStock/Nenov

While product dating may assist consumers pinpoint shelf life, the plethora of descriptors used has caused confusion and led to shameful food wastage, said the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Except for infant formula, product dating is not required by Federal regulations. However, the ‘Use By’, ‘Sell By’ and ‘Best Before’ food labels are widely used by food manufacturers in the US.

The Department is now encouraging food manufacturers and retailers to standardise and advocates replacing all other dates with ‘Best If Used By’ on product labels.

According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the use of different phrases to describe quality dates has bewildered consumers. Many are more influenced by the date printed on the package than the fact the contents may still be wholesome and safe and – obviously erring on the side of caution – perfectly good food is too often thrown away.

Around 30% of food produced is lost or wasted at retail and consumer level, claims the department.

The FSIS is changing its guidance to recommend the use of ‘Best If Used By’ because research shows this phrase is easily understood by consumers as an indicator of quality, rather than safety.

In an effort to get everyone on the same page, the department is inviting interested shareholders to submit comments on the new directive.

One man’s trash is another’s treasure

The USDA has stepped up its efforts to reduce food wastage.

In 2013, its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the US Food Waste Challenge, creating a platform for leaders and organizations across the food chain to share best practices on ways to reduce, recover and recycle food loss and waste.

In 2015, it set the first-ever national food waste reduction goal of 50 % by 2030 to decrease the amount of unused food going to landfills.

And in January this year, the FSIS issued Directive 7020.1 to allow companies to donate food that would otherwise be scrapped. The new directive facilitates the donation of products that have minor labeling errors, such as an incorrect net weight.

Under certain circumstances, food banks are allowed to break bulk shipments, rewrap and relabel the products for distribution to consumers.

Through this, the FSIS enabled 2.6 million pounds of manufacturer donations this year.

Buy smart, save money

The new ‘Best If Used By’ label ought to give consumers clearer information on the food they buy, said Al Almanza, USDA deputy undersecretary for Food Safety.

“This new guidance can help consumers save money and curb the amount of wholesome food going in the trash,” he stated.

Comments on this revised guidance may be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov and must include the docket number FSIS-2016-0044. Deadline for submissions is January 14, 2017.

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