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Label Management
February 26, 2024
February 26, 2024

Everything You Need to Know About the Food Date Labeling Act

Rangan Das

Everything You Need to Know About the Food Date Labeling Act

February 21, 2024
February 26, 2024
Rangan Das


In the United States, food waste is a major problem. Each year, billions of pounds of food are wasted, often because consumers are confused about food date labels. The Food Date Labeling Act aims to address this issue by establishing two standard date labels: “BEST if used by” for quality and “USE by” for expiration. This would help consumers understand if the food is still safe to eat.

For manufacturers, the Food Date Labeling Act presents hurdles to navigate. Updating labeling systems, educating employees, and adjusting quality control protocols all require time and resources. Additionally, determining which products warrant a "BEST if used by" label and which need a stricter "USE by" designation demands careful consideration to avoid both misinformation and waste.

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Brands may also need to invest in packaging redesign. Designs must clearly and prominently showcase the two standardized terms, ensuring immediate visual recognition by consumers. The limited real estate on some packages may necessitate creative solutions, perhaps incorporating smaller fonts or innovative graphic cues. 

What is the Food Date Labeling Act all about?

The Act's core lies in establishing two standardized terms, each with a distinct purpose:

  • "BEST if Used By": This phrase sheds the cloak of mystery surrounding "best-by" dates. It's a quality indicator, marking the food's peak performance in terms of flavor, texture, and appearance. Think of it as a friendly nudge, not a rigid deadline. After this date, the food may not be at its concert-hall-best, but it's still perfectly safe to enjoy as an encore. A yogurt might lose its tang, or crackers might become slightly softer, but there would be no health concerns lurking in the shadows.
  • "USE By": This phrase draws a firm line in the sand. It's the safety sentinel, the point beyond which the food may no longer be safe to consume due to potential spoilage or microbial growth. This is the true expiration date, a finale you wouldn't want to witness on your plate.
'Best if used by' phrase on labels
Can showing a “Best if used by” date.
Source: Howzoo

Crucially, the Act distinguishes itself from the current confusion surrounding "sell-by" dates. As the FDA clarifies, these dates are merely a retailer's recommendation for selling the product at its prime, often well before any safety concerns arise. The Act eliminates this ambiguity by focusing on clear quality and safety indicators, empowering consumers to make informed decisions about the food they eat.

Sell by date on a carton of eggs
Sell By date on a carton of eggs.
Source: Quora

But the Act doesn't stop at terminology. It recognizes the knowledge gap between producers and consumers and proposes bridging it through education. Imagine grocery stores adorned with pamphlets explaining the difference between "BEST if Used By" and "USE By" dates, or packaging featuring infographics on maximizing shelf life. These initiatives aim to equip consumers with the tools to decipher food labels confidently, reducing unnecessary food waste and fostering a culture of informed consumption.

Understanding the difference in food packaging dates
Infographic on dates on food packaging.
Source: Georgia Department of Agriculture and Food Safety on X.

Moreover, their Food Safety & Availability resources empower individuals with "safe handling, preparation, and storage" practices. The Food Date Labeling Act builds upon this existing framework, seamlessly integrating such information into the labeling system itself, making it readily accessible and relevant to everyday food choices.

Also read: Understanding the FDA Food Labeling Guide: A Comprehensive Overview

How to ensure compliance with the Food Date Labeling Act

The Food Date Labeling Act, once implemented, will usher in a new era of clarity and consistency in food labeling. But navigating its waters requires meticulous attention to detail, whether you're a seasoned food manufacturer or a passionate baker crafting homemade treats. Let's delve into the key steps to ensure smooth sailing towards compliance.

1. Conduct a label audit

Begin by taking stock of your existing labeling practices. This involves scrutinizing every product in your portfolio, identifying the types of dates currently used ("sell-by," "best-by," "use-by"), and assessing their alignment with the Act's proposed standards. Document your findings and identify any discrepancies that need to be addressed.

2. Master the lingo

Familiarize yourself with the two standardized terms – "BEST if Used By" and "USE By." Understand the nuances of each term, their intended purpose, and the criteria for determining their application to your specific products. Refer to the FDA's website for detailed guidance and resources on date labeling practices.

3. Label revamp

Once you've grasped the lingo, it's time to revamp your labels. This involves:

  • Prominently displaying the standardized terms: Ensure they are easily visible and distinguishable from other information on the packaging.
  • Providing clear and concise definitions: Briefly explain the meaning of each term and its relevance to the product's quality and safety.
  • Including storage instructions: Guide consumers on how to store the product for optimal shelf life and adherence to the "BEST if Used By" date.
  • Complying with educational material requirements: If the Act mandates educational pamphlets or infographics, develop these materials and ensure their accessibility to consumers.
Food packaging label redesign projects done easy with Artwork Flow
Software like Artwork Flow can help with food packaging label redesign projects

Also read: 5 Things To Check Before Printing Your Labels - Artwork Flow

4. Train your team

Remember, compliance isn't a solo act. Train your team, including production staff, packaging designers, and marketing personnel, on the Act's requirements and your updated labeling practices. This ensures consistency and minimizes errors throughout the production and packaging process.

5. Embrace continuous improvement

The Act is a dynamic entity, and its implementation may evolve over time. Stay updated with the latest regulations and guidance from the FDA. Conduct regular internal audits to assess your compliance and identify any areas for improvement.

Here are a few points to keep in mind. 

  • Seek professional guidance: Consider consulting with food safety experts or legal professionals to ensure your compliance efforts are comprehensive and accurate.
  • Utilize technology: Explore software solutions designed to manage food labeling and compliance.
  • Communicate transparently: Keep your customers informed about your transition to the new labeling system. Explain the benefits and address any concerns they might have.

Remember, this Act is not just about regulations; it's about empowering consumers, reducing food waste, and building a more sustainable food system. 

How to set up a compliance-centric creative QA system

Ensuring compliance demands not just meticulous attention to detail, but also a creative approach to integrate the standardized terms ("BEST if Used By" and "USE By") seamlessly into your existing branding and packaging. 

This is where a robust Creative Quality Assurance (QA) system comes into play, acting as your vigilant guardian against errors and inconsistencies while fostering a culture of quality and creative expression.

Laying the foundation: defining your quality standards

The bedrock of any effective QA system is a clear set of quality standards. This involves meticulously defining acceptable tolerances for every aspect of your food labels, from the prominent placement and legibility of the date terms to the accuracy and clarity of storage instructions. Consider establishing:

  • Visual hierarchy: Define guidelines for how prominently the standardized terms should be displayed relative to other label elements, ensuring immediate visibility for consumers.
  • Terminology precision: Establish your interpretation of each term ("BEST if Used By" and "USE By") and ensure its consistent application across all product lines, minimizing confusion for consumers.
  • Font finesse: Determine optimal font size and style for clear readability across age groups, catering to both young and older consumers.
  • Storage savvy: Formulate concise and actionable instructions on how to store each product for optimal shelf life, maximizing the value of the "BEST if Used By" date.
  • Brand brilliance: Establish guidelines for maintaining brand identity and aesthetics while adhering to the Act's requirements, allowing your packaging to shine with both compliance and creativity.

Building the wall: implementing a rigorous review process

Once your quality standards are in place, craft a meticulous review process to ensure their consistent application. Consider establishing:

  • Pre-press patrol: Implement rigorous checks at the design stage, where errors can be identified and rectified before finalization, saving time and resources.
  • Proofreading precision: Assign dedicated personnel to meticulously proofread each label for accuracy and consistency, ensuring every detail aligns with your standards.
  • Random audits: Conduct regular audits on a sample of labels throughout production, safeguarding against potential discrepancies and maintaining vigilance.

Also read: 5 Reasons Why You Need a Label Audit Trail in the Pharma Industry

  • Versioning: Maintain a documented history of all label revisions and approvals, providing traceability and accountability for every design iteration.

Embracing technology: a powerful ally in your QA arsenal

Technology can be an asset in streamlining and enhancing your QA process. Consider leveraging features like:

  • Digital proofing tools: Facilitate real-time collaboration and feedback with electronic annotations and markups, allowing reviewers to pinpoint issues efficiently.
  • Label management software: Centralize and manage all label versions, ensuring consistency across teams and departments, while promoting accessibility.
  • Automated compliance checks: Utilize software that can automatically scan labels for potential date labeling violations, providing an extra layer of protection.

Cultivating a culture of quality: the heart of a robust QA system

Remember, an effective QA system thrives not just on stringent procedures, but also on a deeply ingrained culture of quality. Foster this culture by:

  • Training and education: Regularly train your design, production, and marketing teams on the Act's requirements and your internal quality standards, empowering them to become active participants in the QA process.
  • Open communication: Encourage open communication and feedback throughout the label creation and review process, allowing diverse perspectives to contribute to continuous improvement.
  • Celebrating excellence: Recognize and reward team members who consistently uphold quality standards, fostering a sense of pride and ownership in the QA system.

Building a robust QA system is not a sprint, but a marathon. By diligently laying the foundation, implementing a rigorous review process, embracing technology, and cultivating a culture of quality, you can create a system that safeguards compliance, empowers creativity, and ultimately, builds trust with your consumers. 

How does label management software help?

While the previous section talked about setting up a compliance-centric creative QA system, this section discusses how a dedicated creative operations platform with label management features can help. Here, we talk about how Artwork Flow's features align with the key aspects of building a robust QA system for the Food Date Labeling Act:

  • Centralized library: Artwork Flow allows you to establish a central library of approved label templates and design elements, ensuring consistency and adherence to your defined visual hierarchy and brand guidelines.
  • Version control: Every iteration of your label is documented and accessible, creating a clear reference point for maintaining terminology precision and font consistency across designs.
  • Real-time collaboration: Artwork Flow facilitates real-time feedback and annotations on digital proofs, allowing your team to address potential date labeling issues with efficiency and speed.
  • Automated pre-flight checks: Eliminate human error and save time by implementing automated checks that scan for specific compliance criteria, alerting you to any inconsistencies before finalization.
  • Audit trails: Track every change and approval across versions, offering complete transparency and accountability throughout the review process.
  • Digital asset management: Artwork Flow simplifies label management by centralizing all assets, including images, logos, and date terms, ensuring consistent access and control for your design team.
  • Workflow automation: Streamline your review process with automated workflows that guide labels through approval stages, minimizing delays and bottlenecks.
  • Scalability: As your needs evolve, Artwork Flow scales with you, offering robust functionalities to manage complex labeling requirements and large product lines.
  • Team visibility: Foster collaboration and shared accountability by providing team members with easy access to design iterations, review history, and quality standards within the platform.
  • Streamlined communication: Artwork Flow's communication tools offer a centralized platform for discussions, feedback, and approvals, promoting transparency and engagement within your team.

Artwork Flow goes beyond ensuring compliance; it facilitates creative collaboration and empowers your design team. Its intuitive interface and user-friendly tools allow your designers to experiment with different layouts and explore creative options within the boundaries of compliance requirements. This fosters a dynamic environment where quality and creativity coexist, resulting in food labels that are both accurate and visually appealing.


The Food Date Labeling Act presents an exciting opportunity to streamline compliance and showcase your brand's creativity. Artwork Flow can be your partner in this journey, with features that smooth approvals, safeguard accuracy, and empower your design team. Ready to see the future of compliant labels? ComplyAI by Artwork Flow automates your food label compliance process to another level by standardizing complex FDA requirements and scanning the barcode accuracy. Get a free demo of Artwork Flow today and unlock the potential of delivering compliance packaging.

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