The U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) issued new recommendations earlier this month as part of its efforts to clarify food labeling to improve consumer understanding and to reduce food waste. Specifically, the recommendations suggest that companies refrain from using date labeling terms, such as “sell by,” “use by,” or “best if used by,” or others that tend to confuse customers about the safety and quality of food products. These recommendations heed warnings made in a 2012 National Resources Defense Council report that found product dating misled consumers into believing that “peak quality” equated with food safety and that such dates were more suggestive of expiration. With the recommendations, the USDA hopes to reduce the level of food waste in the U.S. by retailers and consumers and assist the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with its goal to reduce food waste in the U.S. by 50 percent by 2030.
Takeaway: While the USDA’s recommendations are not mandatory, advertisers and marketers of food products should consider implementing the label changes so as to avoid misleading consumers about food quality and safety.