Editor's Note

Clean labeling is the latest strategy to win back shoppers.

Rob Brough Nov 1, 2017
Rob Brough jokingly tosses salad dressing in the aisle at Harmons.

Over the past 14 years, I have shared glimpses with Community readers of my family’s impassioned debates on such weighty topics as when it is appropriate to begin listening to holiday music and the timing of holiday decorations. However, there is at least one other dispute that has, until now, gone unshared.

Amy Steinbrech’s article in this issue exploring the concept of “clean labeling,” has prompted me to now reveal it. Clean labeling is the latest strategy to win back shoppers with ingredient lists that are short, easy to pronounce and understandable.

Perhaps the best way to frame this particular family debate is with a story.

A few years ago, we had my in-laws over for Sunday dinner. There wasn’t anything particularly unique about that, as we often try to have dinner together as a family on Sunday afternoons. However, as we sat down to begin the meal, my mother-in-law asked if we had a certain variety of salad dressing to go with her green salad. Although it was not dressing we typically used, I was able to locate an unopened bottle near the back of our refrigerator. What luck!

My luck, however, quickly turned south. Upon handing the dressing to my mother-in-law, she happened to notice the “best if used by” date on the condiment’s label. While I don’t remember the exact date of alleged expiration, suffice it to say it was a few years removed from the date of our dinner.

Candidly, I saw no problem with the dressing. It smelled fine, and it tasted just like I expected it to taste. After all, it had been refrigerated all those years.

My wife, on the other hand, was mortified and the bottle was promptly tossed in the trash. Predictably, that evening also included a thorough “cleansing” of our refrigerator and pantry of any additional items that had exceeded their “best by” lives.

My contention has always been that the “best by” date is not an official expiration date, but rather a suggestion to be considered. My wife, however, considers the date as akin to a declaration of death by the coroner’s office. Therein lies the debate.

As it turns out, within the past year, the United States Department of Agriculture has provided some insight into the “best by” labeling. It has stated: “A ‘best if used by/before’ indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date, except for when used on infant formula.”

The USDA further states that “if the date passes during home storage, a product should still be safe and wholesome if handled properly until the time spoilage is evident. Spoiled foods will develop an off odor, flavor or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria. If a food has developed such spoilage characteristics, it should not be eaten.”

I rest my case.

It should further be noted that according to a December 2016 Forbes article, the average American household spends more than $2,000 annually on wasted food. Studies have shown that 20 percent of consumer food waste occurs because people are confused by date labels, with 84 percent of American consumers reporting that they discard food close to or past the date on the package.

While I might be justified in declaring victory in the “best by” labeling debate in my home, it’s probably more appropriate to admit that we’re both partly right. Somewhere between three-year old salad dressing and a can of soup that is one day removed from its “best by” date is an appropriate time to consider discarding an item.

Rob Brough
Executive Vice President
Corporate Marketing and Communications

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