World’s largest food manufacturers agree to make expiration labels more user-friendly

Consumers can look forward to easily determining how long to keep a product before it goes bad if a planned move agreed to standardize expiration labels on packaging by some of the world’s largest food companies and retailers goes through.

With the standardized system, consumers can expect less confusion caused by the wide variety of terms to denote shelf life in use at present. These include “sell by,” “use by,” “display until,” or “best before”. It is hoped that within the next two years, most of the industry players would switch to using “use by” or “best if used by” dates instead. Through this change, it is hoped to reduce food wastage, largely attributed to inconsistent and confusing labelling. Using just the United States as an example, it has been estimated that 40% of food that is purchased is wasted.

The companies making the switch include Walmart, Nestlé, Kellogg, Unilever, Tesco, and Campbell Soup. They also agreed to actively educate consumers about waste.

A statement by the Consumer Goods Forum also reaffirmed the companies’ commitment to the cause.

“Standardizing food date labels is a simple and effective way to reduce the amount of edible food thrown out by households, saving them money and reducing their environmental footprint. Food loss and waste is a major contributor to climate change, emitting 8% of annual greenhouse gases,” read the statement.

The new labels are expected to be unveiled in the US, the UK and Japan to begin with, perhaps due to the statistics there. About 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted annually across the globe. According to studies by the forum, in the UK, the average household throws £700 (USD $947) of perfectly good food. In the US, that figure is about $1,500.

Separately, according to research by ReFED, one advocacy group speaking out against food wastage, by achieving a 20% reduction in food waste would save 1.8 billion meals that go to landfills each year, enough to feed America’s poorest population three times over. By its estimates, the effort would cost US$18 billion.

The efforts by companies to reduce food waste is not new. When carrot producers discovered that ugly carrots were generally tossed out, they introduced the baby carrot, which makes up about 70% of all carrot sales and boosted carrot consumption, shared the Produce Marketing Association.

However, having standardized labels is expected to make a difference and lessen consumer confusion – even as soon as they pick up the product.

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