Inspection Services Division

Food Date Labeling

In 2017, Governor Brown signed into law AB 954 (Chiu, Chapter 787). It identifies food waste as the most prevalent item in California's waste stream.

AB 954 further aims to bring awareness regarding the misinterpretation of date labels on foods—a key factor leading to food waste in American households. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that confusion over date labeling accounts for an estimated 20% of consumer food waste.

Standardizing Food Labels

ReFED, a nonprofit specializing in reducing food waste in the U.S., led a multi-stakeholder working group that contributed an industry-wide commitment for standardized date labels.

In keeping with the spirit of AB 954, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) in consultation with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) acknowledges that bringing clarity to food date labels would greatly aid in curbing food waste that often is discarded prematurely. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are partners in this effort.

CDFA encourages food manufacturers, processors and retailers responsible for the labeling of food products to voluntarily use the following two uniform terms on food product labels to communicate quality dates and safety dates:

Best Practices for Date Labeling
  1. "BEST if used by" or "BEST if used or Frozen by" to indicate the quality date of a product.
  2. "USE by" or "USE by or Freeze by" to indicate the safety date of the product.

"Sell by" dates are confusing to the public and CDFA encourages all retailers and food distributors to continue to work toward alternatives that are standardized to provide consumers clear direction when reading labels. The industry already is moving to this standard through voluntary food date labeling guidelines by the Consumer Brands Association and Food Industry Association, among others. Uniform and accurate labeling will assist in reducing food waste.

About the Food Recovery Hierarchy

  • Source Reduction
  • Feed Hungry People
  • Feed Animals
  • Industrial Uses
  • Composting
  • Landfills