Category Archives: Packaging

Say ‘Best If Used By,’ FDA Urges Food Folks

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An example of a confusing date label: The ‘Sell by’ date on egg cartons can, the USDA says, by up to 30 days after the eggs were packed. When properly stored, though, the eggs will still be edible — but not as tasty — for several weeks beyond the ‘sell by’ date. (Source: USDA)

The US public has been vocally concerned for years about the over-abundance of ways food packers advise when, in their opinion, a product ‘expires’. After much consideration – stretching over more than a decade – the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has made a recommendation. In a May 23 letter to the industry, the agency encouraged all consumer-facing companies to focus on one phrase: “Best If Used By”.

Confusion over the meaning of that and the likes of ‘Use By’ and ‘sell By’ to describe quality dates resulted in “less than half” of consumers surveyed in 2007 to determine or distinguish between those phrases, the letter noted. And that, in part, the agency declared, significantly contributed to the wasting of “approximately 133 billion pounds of food worth $161 billion each year.”

It is hoped by the FDA’s Economic Research Service that if the industry standardizes on the recommended phrase, a sizable share of that waste – 30% of food moving through the system – will end up where it’s intended to be: In stomachs rather than landfills.

Signed by Frank Yiannas, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner of Food Policy and Response, the letter is said to reflect the positions of a number of industry groups, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute. Those groups are expected to encourage their members to follow the FDA’s suggestion so that, “over time, the number of various date labels will be reduced as industry aligns on this ‘Best if Used By’ terminology,” Yiannis wrote. He declared that, “This change is already being adopted by many food producers.”

Food Dive noted that the agency didn’t explain why it wasn’t taking a position on “use by” product date labels, which GMA and FMI support. That term applies to “perishable products that should be consumed by the date on the package and discarded after that date,” FDA’s letter said. It may be the agency doesn’t want to support a term that prompts consumers to discard food when it’s trying to reduce waste.

Industry response to the FDA’s letter has been positive so far. Food Marketing Institute President and CEO Leslie Sarasin said in a statement the group’s members appreciate FDA’s acknowledgement of industry’s desire to reduce consumer confusion with this label.

“The agency’s endorsement signals a best practice in ways industry partners can truly deliver on a promise to provide guidance to our customers that is easier to understand,” she said.

A survey by GMA and FMI released in December found 85% of U.S. consumers thought simplified date labels would be helpful, so this latest move could push more companies to use the “Best if used by” phrase.

Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said in a statement emailed to Food Dive that FDA’s support of the standardized phrase shows the CPG (consumer packaged goods) industry is working to help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions. GMA and the Food Marketing Institute came together with 25 companies in 2017 to find a way to reduce consumer confusion that led to unintended food waste, he said.

“Our solution was a streamlined approach to date labeling that has been recognized by USDA and now FDA as a smart approach and an important step in alleviating confusion and reducing food waste,” Freeman said in the statement.

While standardized use of the “best if used by” phrase on food products could begin to cut down on food waste, FDA supports additional consumer education by industry, government and non-government groups about what quality-based date labels mean and how to use them. Such ongoing efforts will likely be important to make sure “Best If Used By” continues to stand for something and that food waste declines as a result.

(Some produce packers further confuse the issue by use of “packed by” or “harvested on” dates. It can be argued that, to a great degree, those suggest consumers use common sense and their eyes to determine the freshness of an item.)

 

 

 

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Sustainable Packaging: What’s New?

 

Renewables and reusables were among the new packaging product highlights at the recently concluded NRA (National Restaurant Association) annual show in Chicago.

Among the highlights, as reported by Restaurant Hospitality, were:

A unique system of reusable plastic containers from Ozzi, based in New Kingstown, R.I. This four-year-old company’s latest products are designed to eliminate the need for disposables. Ideal for foodservice programs at universities, military bases, corporate campuses or other settings, the system includes an automated collection box, where guests can return the sturdy, bright-green containers after use.

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If not returned, the guest is charged $5 per container. The containers are washed, sanitized and returned to the foodservice outlet. They can be reused up to 300 times (and at the end of their life they are shredded and recycled into yogurt cups). Ozzi officials said about 100 college campuses across the country are using the system, and some cities, like Truckee, Calif., for example, are starting to launch programs for restaurants.

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Minima, based in Taiwan, supplies compostable straws to chains like Starbucks. New this year, however, is a compostable to-go straw that comes in clear plastic-film wrapper, and that wrapper is also compostable. Minima also makes a line of compostable cutlery free of bisphenol A, or BPA, an industrial chemical in polycarbonate plastics that can leach into food, as well as various other alternative plastics for things like toothbrushes, sunglass frames and packaging tape.

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>             Canada-based Eco Guardian has a new line of Lock n’ Go compostable containers with tabs that glue closed to prevent delivery drivers from tampering with food, which has become a growing concern. Several packaging manufacturers at the show said they also were working on tamper-proofing features for their products.

Eco Guardian’s containers are made from sugarcane fiber or bamboo, with the option of both clear and non-transparent-fiber lids or base. Rather than a hinged clamshell, these containers are separate pieces, which creates less waste if used for dine in, when a hinged top might not be necessary.

That gives operators the option of putting two clear containers together, for example, for a cold item, or two fiber pieces together for something hot — or they can put a clear lid on a fiber base to mix and match. All are certified compostable, including the glue on the tamper-proofing tabs.

>             Japan-based Stalk Market has a new line of certified compostable plates and serving platters designed for dine in called Wasara, made from sugarcane, bamboo and reed pulp.

More like sculpture, these attractive pieces are designed to reflect the elegant lines of Japanese architecture. There are no lids, but they are stackable to create stunning pinwheel-like presentations.

Eco Products, of Boulder, Colo., was promoting its compostable cutlery, including a new line with no added PFAS to comply with upcoming standards. In addition, the company debuted its new “Cutlerease” dispenser that serves up knives, forks or spoons one at a time, with another popping neatly into its place. This eliminates waste and sanitation issues created around traditional cutlery holders which can appear cluttered and messy.

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>             Hay! Straws makes biodegradable straws made from straw stems, a biproduct of wheat production after the grain is harvested. The stems are rinsed, soaked, washed and air dried to create a straw that functions just like plastic, and can be used in hot and cold drinks. New from the San Francisco-based company this year is the addition of three new sizes: Jumbo, Jumbo XL and Boba Hay straws, which are designed for beverages that are thicker and chunkier, like smoothies, shakes or boba teas.

>             Making its first appearance at the show is the recently launched Butterfly Cup, a paper cup that folds into a modified sippy cup of sorts, eliminating the need for plastic lids or straws, though some models include a straw hole, if desired. The Spartansburg, S.C.-based company offers a compostable version that is currently BPI-certified, though CEO Ackshay Vashee said they are working on meeting the new standards for next year.

>             Georgia Pacific was showing off what it calls the first disposable Dixie cup made from 100% recycled post-consumer fiber. In addition, the company also demonstrated its prototype auto-sealing beverage system that puts a sealed leak-proof lid on cups to prevent delivery drivers from taking a sip while the beverage is in transit.