Label Confusion and the Impact on Food Waste

If you haven’t read our blog “The Importance of Expiration Dates on Packaging,” you should! Did you know the FDA does not require food firms to place dates on food products? There is no system in place that determines what date to list or even if they need to list a date on the product. Congress is looking to address this issue and clarify the date labeling practices on food packaging with the Food Date Labeling Act of 2016.

label confusion

Food Waste Due to Label Confusion

Congress has found the following information related to label confusion:

  • 90% of individuals in the United States throw out food that is still fresh because of the misunderstanding with “sell-by,” “best-by,” “use-by,” and “best before” dates.
  • 20% of people waste edible food because of the confusion with dates on labels. This accounts for billions of dollars in wasted consumer spending.
  • Two ways to help reduce food waste are to educate consumers and implement standardized date labeling.

When food is wasted it costs everyone money. This includes the consumer and the industry as well. In addition to this, food that is wasted impacts the food supply and misses the chance to feed many households that are in need of food.

How Can Consumers Help?

Consumers are just as responsible for food waste and safety as the food industry is.

One of the ways consumers can help preserve the foods they have purchased is by storing them properly. Storing food at the proper temperature and in the best location will sustain the life of the product and ensure it stays safe to eat.

It is also important to pay attention to the dates on packages. If the product has a use-by date, utilize this information to help determine when to consume the product by or if you should freeze it so you aren’t wasting food and throwing your grocery money away.

Lastly, common sense is an important part of the equation. If the food is growing mold, smells bad, or if the first bite seems off, when in doubt, throw it out!

Best-by and Use-by Dates are Not the Only Problem

Use-by, best-by, and sell-by dates aren’t the only labels you need to monitor on food. In June the U.S. Senate reached a compromise to require food manufacturers to label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. This deal happened only a week before Vermont’s law to require GMO food labeling. If this is voted on, passed by a supermajority, and signed into law by the President, Vermont’s law will be superseded.

The Vermont law requires a label to show if there are genetically modified organisms (GMOs). However, the compromised reach by the U.S. Senate gives food manufacturers a number of options for how to disclose products that contain GM ingredients which leaves a lot of room for the consumer to still be confused about what is in the food they are buying.

The debate over GM food and consumer education with the labeling of food has been going on for quite some time. This new bill brings the question of labeling to the forefront once again, but will these bills help consumers obtain the information they need to know in order to make the best choices for their families?