Food Date Labels to Get Some Clarity, with Coalition’s Help

The Consumer Goods Forum, which represents some of the world's largest food companies and retailers, has pledged to create standards for sell-by and expiration dates by 2020. The move could help cut back on food waste significantly.

The food labels that help us determine whether that mayo in the fridge is still safe to use or belongs in the trash are getting an industrywide rethink.

This week, the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), which¬† represents 400 of the largest food-related companies worldwide, announced that it had agreed to a plan to simplify and standardize expiration date labels by 2020. Major companies like Kellogg’s, Tesco, Walmart, Amazon, and Mondelez are among the coalition’s members.

Such labels—which use language like “sell by,” “use by,” and “best before”—have been criticized as inconsistent and confusing for consumers, leading to unnecessary food waste. CGF is aiming to address the problem with its partner, Champions 12.3, a cross-industry coalition that works to help meet United Nations Sustainable Development goals.

“The goal is to simplify and harmonize food date labeling around the world to reduce consumer confusion,” CGF Director of Sustainability Ignacio Gavilan told NPR this week.

The issue first drew attention in 2013, when the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report stating that confusing expiration dates created a tendency for consumers to throw away food before it was bad.

Since then, industry groups have focused on the issue, with the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association announcing a joint effort in February. With its new plan, CGF, which counts both FMI and GMA among its partners, builds on those efforts.

“Now more than ever is the time for business to play a leading role in tackling food waste. This is an issue that can only truly be tackled by collaboration across the value chain,” CGF Managing Director Peter Freedman said in a news release. “Through our global membership, the CGF is committed to playing a leadership role. We believe simplified and consistent date labeling will help us get one step closer to meeting our resolution to halve food waste by 2025 while also helping reduce confusion for consumers.”

Along with the announcement, Champions 12.3 released a report [PDF] highlighting global progress on food waste in recent years.

(w-ings/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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