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Food Labels: What you should know

There is no universal or uniform list of labels. The USDA doesn't require it, but a Congressman is asking them to change that.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — You see the labels all the time; Best by, sell by, use, or freeze by.

This one was new to me, enjoy by. It seems like it's the kinder gentler way of telling you the rules.  While the labels are common, it doesn't mean they're useful to consumers.

"So, you have a 'sell by' date, which means a store has to sell it by that date. But a customer takes that home and has no clue how long that product is good for,” said Barbara Bucknam, Food Safety for Stew Leonard’s Grocery.

The USDA estimates that 30%-40% of the food supply is lost or wasted at the retail and consumer levels. One of the main reasons? Confusion about the meaning of dates.

Why so much confusion?  I mean, they’re not words we don’t know. The problem is, there are no uniform or universally accepted descriptions used on food labels in the U.S. It's up to every manufacturer to put what they want.

The USDA  has a document on Food Datings and lists some of the commonly used phrases.

Best if used by or before is for the product's best flavor or quality-- it's not a safety date.

Sell-by tells the store how long to display the products-- it's not a safety date.

Use by is the last date recommended for peak quality-- also not a safety date.

Freeze by indicates when a product should be frozen by to maintain peak quality. Again, it’s not a safety date.

"Let's put some constancy behind this. Let's have some standards," said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, (D) New Jersey.

This week, New Jersey Congressman Josh Gottheimer wrote a letter urging the USDA and the FDA to issue guidance on food date labeling.
He also introduced the Food Date Labeling Act of 2023. We'll see where it goes from here.

HOW CAN YOU STOP WASTING FOOD? Consumer Reports has a few tricks that will save food and money.

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