USDA Revises Recommendation on Food ‘Use By’ Labels

By Casey Wooten

The labeling on your next carton of milk may look a bit different.

The Agriculture Department has updated its guidance describing how food makers should label the “use by” dates on their products, saying that manufacturers should use the phrase “best if used by,” compared to other options.

That would better show that the labels are an indicator of quality and don’t necessarily mean that the food is unsafe to consume after the printed date, the USDA said.

“In an effort to reduce food loss and waste, these changes will give consumers clear and consistent information when it comes to date labeling on the food they buy,” Alfred Almanza, USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety, said in a statement. “This new guidance can help consumers save money and curb the amount of wholesome food going in the trash.”

Except for infant formula, food makers are not required to print a date on their products and often use a variety of labels, such as “sell by” and “use by,” which can carry different meanings.

The use of different phrases to describe quality dates can cause consumer confusion and can lead to the disposal of food that is otherwise safe to consume, the USDA said.

In its Dec. 14 announcement, the USDA said it estimates that about 30 percent of all food is lost or wasted at the consumer level and that the new guidance is part of a broader effort since 2009 to curb food waste.

In 2015, the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency set a national goal of reducing food waste in landfills by 50 percent by 2030.

To contact the reporter on this story: Casey Wooten in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at

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