Policy Update: Standardized Expiration Labels
Jul 21

Policy Update: Standardized Expiration Labels

By Kelly Regan, Let's Move Pittsburgh

To increase awareness of children’s health and wellness initiatives, Phipps' Let’s Move Pittsburgh project provides Policy Update, a column on local, state and national health policies that impact you.

In January of 2017, both the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marking Institute (FMI) adopted and endorsed a voluntary, industry-wide food label initiative to standardize the language used in expiration dates1. This language, known as product code labeling, has been a source of confusion to consumers for many years. Walk into any grocery store today and you are likely to find an array of unclear dates including “Sell By”, “Best Before”, “Expires On”, “Use By”, “Best By”, and “Enjoy By.”2

Fortunately, by the Summer of 2018, the majority of products will be labeled with one of two phrases; “best if used by,” which will refer to the quality of the product, and “use by” for highly perishable goods like dairy, meat and cheese.3 The “best if used by” date will indicate that the product is still safe to consume once the date has passed, however the taste, texture or overall quality of the food will no longer be at its peak. The “use by” date is more firm, and indicates that the product is no longer safe to consume and should be disposed of.

In addition to confusion, the unstandardized method has caused a lot of unnecessary food waste. In the United States, approximately 40 percent of food goes uneaten, with an estimated $165 billion worth of food being tossed in the trash each year.3 The hope is that by decreasing the variation in expiration phrasing, this new initiative will reduce the amount of food that is needlessly thrown away as a result of fear or misconception that the product may have gone bad.

To learn more about the shelf-life of your opened and unopened food products, check out the USDA’s FoodKeeper app. For more information about the new policy, read the full article along with the other sources listed below.


1. FMI Board Adopts New Product Code Date Labeling Policy 

2. FMI – GMA Product Code Dating Initiative

3. Food Policy Expert Says New Labels Should Reduce Food Waste