Understanding Date Labels on Packaged Foods to Reduce Food Waste

What does the label “Best If Used By” when purchasing foods and beverages actually mean?  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) want you to know the facts before you throw your items away.

  • “Best if Used By” labeling is standardized to provide a date that is related to optimal quality – not safety. This tells consumers that certain products do not have to be discarded after the date if they are stored properly.
  • An “expiration date” is only used for baby formula. This is the only date label that is federally required.
  • Date labels are created by manufacturers at their own discretion. The main reason for this is to notify consumers and retailers of the date where they can expect the food to retain its desired quality and flavor.
  • The FDA advises consumers to routinely examine foods in their kitchen cabinets or pantry that are past the “Best if Used By” date to determine if the quality is sufficient for use. If the products have changed noticeably in color, consistency or texture, or smell, consumers may want to avoid eating them.
  • Reduce food waste by refrigerating peeled or cut vegetables for freshness, quality or safety. Store foods in the freezer to retain quality.  Avoid bulk and impulse purchases, especially of produce and dairy products that have a limited shelf life.  Request smaller portions when eating out.  Bring your leftovers home, and refrigerate/freeze them within two hours.

Between the food industry and consumers, Americans throw out about a third of our food – approximately $161 billion worth each year.  For more tips to reduce food waste, visit:  https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/tips-reduce-food-waste.

Don't Waste Food SC_0

Don’t Waste Food SC is a collaborative outreach campaign that focuses on bringing together every individual and organization in South Carolina to prevent, donate or compost extra food rather than wasting it. Initially a partnership of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and S.C. Department of Commerce, ambassadors now include K-12 schools, businesses, food retailers and manufacturers, non-profit organizations, municipalities and local governments, colleges/universities, residents, restaurants and hospitality establishments as well as many others. For more information or to get involved, please visit Don’t Waste Food SC or email dontwastefoodsc@dhec.sc.gov.

Download the rack card specifically addressing product labeling as an easy reference tool.

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