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FDA looks to swap out ‘sell by’ dates for ‘best if used by’

The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it will work with food manufacturers to use the label “best if used by” to refer to food quality, rather than the phrase “sell by,” which can create the impression the product is not safe by a certain date.

The FDA said that the new label will curb food waste.

Setting expiration dates on foods is not an exact science. The “best if used by” date on milk or eggs means that the products will be the highest quality until a certain date, not that they will expire after that date. The “best if used by” date shows consumers that the products are still safe by the date indicated, but doesn’t lead them to think they have to immediately toss the milk or eggs in the trash after the date.

With the exception of infant formula, which has an FDA-regulated expiration date, the initiative to include a “best if used by” quality label is voluntary, though many food manufacturers have begun using it.

Arbitrary expiration dates have contributed to about 20% of the nation’s food waste, according to the FDA. The agency provided tips for avoiding letting food go to waste: Peeled vegetables should be refrigerated; avoid buying perishables in bulk, which is to say, do not go grocery shopping while hungry; store perishables such as meat and vegetables in the freezer so they stay fresh until they are thawed.

“Imagine this: You go to your favorite supermarket and come out with three bags full of groceries. Before you get in your car, you toss one of those bags in the garbage. Sound ridiculous? Of course it does, but that’s in essence what food waste looks like every day across our country,” said Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for Food Policy and Response at the FDA.