New Initiative Wants To Cut Food Waste In Half By Simplifying Your Food Labels

In order to stop billions of food being wasted annually -- and that's in the United States alone -- corporations are teaming up to simplify expiration dates. They will be streamlined to two phrases: "Best if Used By" and "Use By."


May 26 2019, Updated 12:01 p.m. ET

There’s a lot technology available for us to help curb food waste, a problem that we all run into during our busy lives. Amazon’s Alexa devices provides a great service to find out if produce is still good and how we could even restore the product to its full potential. An affordable smart fridge keeps track of the food stored inside of it and even helps with expiration dates and providing recipes.

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While these are useful products to have, it would be much easier if dates on food labels were clearer to understand. Many of us link the date on a food package to be the same when there’s a big difference between “Sell By” and “Best By.” Some items receive a botched date printed on the jar, making it impossible to tell when it’s supposed to expire. It’s led to an increase in food being thrown out before it needed to be.

The Consumer Goods Forum is hoping to fix the problem by streamlining date labels on products. Over 400 companies are a part of the forum, including major corporations like Amazon and Kellogg’s. The announcement was made at an event hosted by Champions 12.3, which is a union that hopes to achieve one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals on reducing global food waste.

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Instead of having various phrases by the dates, there will only be two used: “Best if Used By” and “Use By.” The former indicates that the product will still go safe to eat, but it won’t be as fresh or it lacks the taste it would have if it was eaten earlier. The “Use By” date will be a simple case of the product should be eaten by that date, and if it’s expired, it should be thrown away.

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This new phrasing will eliminate any alterations (like “Best if Used Before”) and will remove excess options like “Sell By.” Stores benefit from the “Sell By” phrase as it gives them a specific time they need to remove the product off the shelves. However, this isn’t a safety date, and it’s one of the phrases that can lead to food waste by both the store and the consumer.

Ignacio Gavilan, the Consumer Good Forum’s Director Sustainability, said in an interview with NPR that keeping things simple was the ultimate solution: "The goal is to simplify and harmonize food date labeling around the world to reduce consumer confusion.”

In America alone, billions of food waste in thrown away annually. 40 percent of all food harvested is disposed of, and that creates problems with other valuable resources. For example, a quarter of freshwater is wasted because it goes toward produce that’s thrown away. Wasting food is tough on the environment and our pocket books. By making things easier for consumers to understand, it could help eliminate the problem.

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