What is the Difference Between “Best If Used By” and “Use By”?
There is a lot of confusion about the dates printed on food products.
The Journal of Food Protection did a consumer knowledge survey in 2007 and found that less than half of those surveyed were able to distinguish between the meanings of
three different introductory phrases that often appear before the calendar date on the product label: “Sell By”, “Use By”, and “Best If Used By”.
In 2017, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and 25 companies got together to simplify and streamline product date labels to reduce consumer confusion. In January 2017 the group recommended the use of two introductory phrases for product date labels: “Best If Used By” and “Use By.”
The group recommended that:
- “Best If Used By” – be used to indicate that,“after a specified date, the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to be used or consumed.”
- “Use By” – Be used to indicate that the product “should be consumed by the date on the package and discarded after that date.”
The GMA stated that as of December 2018, that nearly nine-in-ten consumer packaged-goods contain the new shelf-life-date language. Total adoption is expected by 2020. You may however see old labels on products until the supply chain is cleared out.
Here are some Grocery Manufacturers Association blog posts related to product date labeling:
- Date Labeling Reform – This article is about how “BEST if Used By” will indicate quality and “USE By” will be on products that have safety concern over time.
- Watching a Good Idea on Streamlined Product Code Date Labels Become a Reality – This article discusses the Product Code Date Labeling initiative.
How Do You Know the Expiration Date or When the Product Goes Bad?
The FDA does not require manufacturers to put an expiration date on products with the exception of infant formula. This means that each manufacturer uses their own discretion as to what date they put on their products.
When food “goes bad” or expires is not an exact science. Things like storage temperature and humidity in will affect how long a product stays fresh.
Kevin Smith from the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition advises consumers to routinely examine foods in their kitchen cabinets or pantry that are past their “Best if Used By” date to determine if the quality is sufficient for use. If the products have changed noticeably in color, consistency or texture, consumers may want to avoid eating them.
Here are articles from the FDA and USDA about food expiration dates:
- Confused by Date Labels on Packaged Foods? – FDA article about how to know if your food is still good to eat while also reducing waste in your home.
- Food Product Dating – USDA FAQ page about food quality dates and expiration dates.
- How to Cut Food Waste and Maintain Food Safety – FDA article about food product dates and how to store food to avoid wasting it.
By understanding food product dates we can cut down on food waste which is good for the environment and our pocketbooks.
Do you have a question about food products dates or shelf-life dates? Feel free to ask a question in the comments.