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Costs of Consumer Confusion on Date Marking Are Huge

Jul 06, 2016

Date marking is a language spoken by all in the food industry, but the same terms can mean very different things to retailers, to consumers and even to food companies selling the same type of products. This lack of consistency and clarity is causing enough confusion to lead American consumers to waste an estimated $1.8 billion worth of food each year according to a recent report, “A Roadmap to Reduce Food Waste by 20 Percent” by Rethink Food Waste (ReFED).

As more and more people are considering the impact of date marking on food waste and looking for solutions, IDFA has joined conversations taking place among a broad group of stakeholders to hear about the challenges, learn what others are doing and share dairy practices.

Just last week, Cary Frye, IDFA vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, participated in a Date Labeling Working Session hosted by ReFED and its steering committee members. ReFED is a collaborative effort of more than 30 business, nonprofit, foundation and government leaders who are committed to reducing food waste in the United States.

Of the 27 food waste solutions analyzed in the ReFED report, standardizing date labeling was identified as the most cost effective in terms of societal economic value created per ton of wasted food. Walmart, a stakeholder in ReFED, recently announced it will require suppliers of its Great Value line of products to use standardized date labeling for its non-perishable foods using the term “Best if used by.”

Frye joined representatives from other trade associations, government agencies, national food banks, supermarkets, researchers and academics who gathered to brainstorm changes that could help to reduce consumer confusion and wasted food. The group aims to look at labeling terms that could be standardized within or between food categories, conduct consumer research on the understanding of terms and identify consumer education needs.  

The attendees acknowledged that the process is a complicated one that will likely take some time to address, but the meeting was a good first step, Frye said. The group agreed to meet again later in the year.

In addition to IDFA, the organizations represented include the Food and Drug Administration, the Food Marketing Institute, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Harvard Food Law and Policy, the National Resource Defense Council, Feeding America and Publix Super Markets, Inc.

Others at IDFA who are working on date-marking issues are Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs, and Emily Lyons, IDFA director of regulatory affairs and counsel.

For more information, contact Frye at cfrye@idfa.org, Saunders at rsaunders@idfa.org or Lyons at elyons@idfa.org.

 
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