‘Sell by’ date labels are changing: What every shopper needs to know


Changes are finally coming to product date labels on food that will make grocery shopping so much easier!

Shoppers currently have to make sense of more than 10 different date labels on items, such as sell by, use by, expires on, best before, better if used by or best by.

Now, grocery manufacturers and retailers have launched a new initiative to simplify the labels.

Read more: Do you know the difference between these labels? Here’s how it can save you money

Here’s why product date labels are changing soon

The Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, two major trade groups that represent food manufacturers and retailers, are behind this new effort.

They’re now recommending the use of just two phrases: “Best if used by” and “Use by.”

The trade groups are encouraging retailers and manufacturers to voluntarily phase in this wording, adopting it widespread by the summer of 2018. Here’s how the industry defines the two phrases:

  • “Best if Used By” describes product quality, where the product may not taste or perform as expected but is safe to use or consume. 
  • “Use By” applies to the few products that are highly perishable and/or have a food safety concern over time; these products should be consumed by the date listed on the package – and disposed of after that date.

This comes after the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued guidance in late 2016 that urged manufacturers to start using the phrase “Best if Used By” to reduce confusion, which leads to food waste.

An estimated 40% of food ends up in landfills every year in the United States.

“Eliminating confusion for consumers by using common product date wording is a win-win because it means more products will be used instead of thrown away in error,” said Jack Jeffers, Vice President of Quality at Dean Foods, which led GMA’s work on this issue. “It’s much better that these products stay in the kitchen – and out of landfills.” 


Walmart has praised the new initiative, saying it will provide consistency, simplify consumers’ lives and reduce food waste.

Read more: Do you know what these food labels really mean?

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