The FDA has come down in favor of “best if used by” as the preferred phrasing for perishable products, weighing in on a question that has bedeviled processors and retailers for years.
In a “Dear Food Industry” letter dated May 23, FDA deputy commissioner Frank Yiannis recommends “best if used by” as the best alternative, preferable to phrases like “use by,” “best by” or “sell by.”
The FDA is trying to address consumer confusion about when food and beverages need to be thrown out. It’s a problem that has led to kitchen sinks and garbage cans being the primary sources of food waste. About 42% of food waste in America occurs in consumers’ homes, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. This amounts to 133 billion pounds of food worth $161 billion each year, Yiannis’ letter states, citing a USDA report.
In trying to persuade the industry to settle on a standard phrase, the FDA wants to avoid scenarios where consumers throw out food too soon. Yiannis referred to research by the Grocery Manufacturers Association in 2017 showing that “best if used by” conveyed most clearly that “after a specified date, the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to be used or consumed.”
In December, the GMA claimed that 87% of food products sold by 43 major processors being marked with dates labeled either “Best If Used By” or “Use By.”