Title

Industry versus government regulation of food date labels: Observed adherence to industry-endorsed phrases

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

12-1-2019

Abstract

© 2019 by the authors. A leading factor in the creation of avoidable household food waste is confusion about food date labels. In the United States, date labels are largely unregulated, resulting in a plethora of date label phrases used in commerce. Federal regulation has been proposed but never passed, while both industry and government have provided voluntary guidance on preferred label phrases. We study food producer adherence to the label phrases endorsed by the Trading Partner Alliance (TPA, an industry group), which includes "Use By" for perishable products subject to a material degradation of critical performance or potential food safety concern and "Best If Used By" for all other packaged foods. Based on three studies conducted between the fall of 2018 and the summer of 2019 that use two distinct measurement methodologies, we find adherence to be less than 50% and to differ by product category, retailer, region, and brand type (store versus national brands). We find numerous dry goods and other foods that are better suited to the "Best If Used By" phrase instead feature the "Use By" phrase. This misapplication of phrases to products and the low TPA phrase adherence rate suggests that practices as of the summer of 2019 may still contribute to consumer confusion about date labels and to inadvertent food discard. We explore possible reasons why our estimated adherence rate is lower than industry reported figures and discuss tradeoffs between government regulation and industry self-regulation.

Publication Source (Journal or Book title)

Sustainability (Switzerland)

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