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When Does That Expire?

A new initiative is focused on making food labels less confusing and reducing food waste.

By Kellee Katagi

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Sell by…” “Use by…” “Enjoy by…” These are just three of 10 expiration-date labels you might see on your next trip to the grocery store, in addition to products that have a date with no explanation at all. Problem is, research shows that most consumers don’t understand what these labels actually mean, which leads to tons (literally) of unnecessary food waste. One survey found that 91 percent of people have thrown out food because they mistakenly thought it was no longer fit to eat. 

Fortunately, help is on the way in the form of an initiative launched by Trading Partner Alliance (TPA)—a widespread, collaborative body of grocery manufacturers and retailers—that urges all food manufacturers to use only two labels: either “BEST If Used By” (or “BEST If Used or Frozen By”) or “USE By” (or “USE or Freeze By”). The former indicates when a product reaches its peak freshness (as estimated by the manufacturer), but doesn’t mean it’s no longer safe to eat after that time. The latter means the food might present a safety concern if consumed after that date. TPA is calling for all product labels to adopt the format by this July. 

But even this simplification isn’t as simple as you might hope. A few variations you might still see include abbreviations—“BEST By,” “BEST,” “BB” or “USE”—for small packages, and additional instructions like “Use within 7 days of opening.”

Kellee Katagi is one of those strange souls who actually enjoys working out for the sake of working out. She’s spent most of her 20-plus-year writing and editing career covering fitness, nutrition and travel, as well as outdoor sports ranging from skiing to spelunking to street luge (yes, that’s a thing).

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