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The Global Food Plan That Will Change the Way You Grocery Shop

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How often do you contemplate the shelf life of an item in your fridge? Just this morning, I precariously sniffed my milk carton, one nostril hesitantly hovering the rim, looking for any trace of spoilage. The reason for my insecurity: nebulous expiration dates.

They're confusing. There’s “sell by”, “use by”, “best if used by”, and the definitive “expires on”. It’s like a rainbow of guidelines that feels almost impossible to navigate. But food industry professionals are taking note. Misread or misinterpreted food labels are an important factor when considering America’s immense amount of food waste (each year, over 133 billion pounds of food is wasted in the U.S. alone).

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In an effort to ameliorate the issue, and put an end to food label confusion, companies are calling for a streamlined approach. The Consumer Goods Forum—a compendium of 400 of the biggest consumer goods companies—is throwing their weight behind the cause and urging food retailers to agree to a recently penned Call to Action. The Forum, which includes companies like Kellogg, Walmart, and Tesco is imploring retailers and producers to agree to the following three protocol:

  1. Only one label at a time.
  2. Choice of two labels: one expiration date for perishable items (e.g. “Use by”) and one food quality indicator for non-perishable items (e.g., “Best if used by”). The exact wording will be tailored to regional context.
  3. Consumer education to better understand what date labels mean.

The guidelines feel effective to me. The idea of reducing the labels and specifying their meanings seems efficient and productive. Should retailers abide by the call to action, consumers would only have to navigate two labels: “use by” and “best if used by” depending on whether or not their product is perishable. This effort represents a definitive and far reaching attempt on the part of mammoth corporations to bring attention to food waste, an issue with massive economic and ecological implications. And with proper education and outreach, this new standard seems poised for success.

Are you confused by food labels? Tell us in the comments!