Best-before labels are standard on many of our foods, but they're leading to a lot of waste. An estimated 4 million tons of food is wasted a year in the U.S. because of confusion over these labels.
Major grocery store chains in the U.K. are trying to fight this same issue. They recently removed best-before labels from prepackaged fruit and vegetables.
“Most of the time, they think this is a hard deadline for food safety, and you know they daresn't go over that date for fear of what it might do to them,” said food law expert Michael Roberts. “So it's a consumer entrenched consumer expectation and behavior is hard to change.”
Currently, there's no federal law in the U.S. on date labels for food other than baby formula. A recent survey from the University of Maryland found at least 50 different kinds of date labels are used in grocery stores.
Roberts believes there's an appetite for standardized labels. But any real change will have to come from the food industry, not the government, he said.
The current recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration is to use best if used by as an indicator of quality.
“I think the problem is that the best if used by still begs the question for the consumers what that means, and it's hard to explain to consumers the difference between quality and safety,” Roberts said.
Legislation currently in Congress would standardize date labels with best if used by for quality and use by for safety.
The Consumer Brands Association is encouraging food companies to use these two labels are well. The FDA suggests you look for changes in color, consistency or texture to determine if foods are ok to eat.