At a Gristedes supermarket on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, packages of Sabra Supremely Spicy Hummus are stamped with “best before” dates, while one shelf up, Tribe Forty Spices Hummus sports a “use by” date. Across the aisle, packages of meat are dated with language like “best by” and “best before.”

That is because each food company determines for itself how long a shelf life its products should have, and how to communicate that to shoppers. More than 10 different phrases are used to inform consumers about when to use or discard food, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, the two large trade groups that represent major food producers and grocery chains. As a result, many people are confused about exactly when to throw out food.

On Wednesday, those two groups, and Walmart, announced that they had agreed to whittle that lexicon to just two phrases: “best if used by” and “use by.”

They said they hoped the change, which is voluntary, would be embraced by the vast majority of food manufacturers and producers sometime next year.

Walmart, the nation’s largest grocery retailer, said it strongly encouraged its suppliers to use “best if used by” on products that might not taste or function as well beyond the specified date, but were nonetheless safe to consume. The company also encouraged suppliers to save “use by” for the handful of products that are highly perishable and could pose a health hazard if kept too long.

“Research shows that the multitude of date labels that appear on foods today are a source of confusion for many consumers,” Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety and health for Walmart, said in a statement.

Walmart and the two groups hope the new labels will also help reduce food waste, an issue of growing concern as consumers learn more about the effect that food production and consumption have on the environment.

“Eliminating confusion for consumers by using common product date wording is a win-win because it means more products will be used instead of thrown away in error,” Jack Jeffers, vice president for quality assurance at Dean Foods, said in the statement released by the grocery manufacturers group. “It’s much better that these products stay in the kitchen — and out of landfills.”

Source: The New York Times