organic foods

Beyond “Best By” – MOM’s Organic Market CEO Ate Expired Food for a Year

Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

Originally appeared in Presence Marketing News, July 2019
By Steven Hoffman

“I mean, I ate heavy cream I think 10 weeks past date, and then meat sometimes a good month past its date. It didn’t smell bad. Rinse it off, good to go,” Scott Nash shared with the Washington Post in a June 18, 2019, interview. Nash is the founder and CEO of MOM’s Organic Market based in Rockville, MD, with 19 stores in four Eastern states. According to the Post, Nash consumed yogurt months after the expiration date printed on the label, and tortillas a year past their expiration date. It was all part of his year-long experiment to test the limits on food that had passed its expiration date. Nash blogged about that experiment in February 2019. 

Of course, you can get very sick eating expired food, but more often than not we're throwing away food that is perfectly safe to eat. Some foods, such as deli meats, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, and prepared foods like potato salad that you don't reheat, probably should be thrown away after their “Use By” date for safety reasons. However, in many cases, the Post reports, expiration dates do not indicate when the food stops being safe to eat; rather, they tell you when the manufacturer thinks that particular product will stop looking and tasting its best. 

Why does it matter? A lot of good, safe food gets thrown away, generating unnecessary food waste in landfills and greenhouse gas emissions. The FDA estimates that we throw out a third of our food, worth $161 billion a year, and the agency believes that confusion over expiration dates may be contributing a significant portion of that waste, reported Popular Science.

In an effort to find a solution for clearer package date labels, in 2017, the grocery industry, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, announced a voluntary standard on food-date labeling. Together, they narrowed a number of date-label terms down to two: "Best if Used By" and "Use By." "Best if used by" describes product quality, meaning that the product might not taste as good past the date but is safe to eat. "Use by" is for products that are highly perishable and should be used or disposed of by that date. 

To help dispel confusion, the FDA announced on May 23, 2019, that it is supporting the food industry’s efforts to standardize the use of the term “Best if Used By” on its packaged food labeling “if the date is simply related to optimal quality – not safety,” said the agency in a statement. Studies have shown that this best conveys to consumers that these products do not have to be discarded after the date if they are stored properly, the agency said. “We expect that over time, the number of various date labels will be reduced as industry aligns on this ‘Best if Used By’ terminology,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response. “This change is already being adopted by many food producers.”

When it comes to food safety, the FDA said that manufacturers can put whatever terminology they want to convey health risk. While the FDA is encouraging manufacturers to use "Best if Used By" terminology as a best practice, it is not required by law. There is no federal law that requires dates on food, except for infant formula, which is required to bear a “Use By” date, reports the FDA. Other industry experts have suggested using language that indicates shelf life after opening or the date when the product was packed.

“They’re trying to bring clarity to the descriptor of the date,” MOM’s Organic Market’s Scott Nash said. “OK, that’s great, that’s better than what we have now. But I think some things just shouldn’t be dated.” 

FDA advises consumers to routinely examine foods that are past their “Best if Used By” date to determine if the quality is sufficient for use. “If the products have changed noticeably in color consistency or texture, consumers may want to avoid eating them,” FDA advises. FDA also developed a FoodKeeper App for Apple and Android phones, designed to promote understanding of food and beverage storage to maximize freshness and quality.

FDA says its efforts are part of a White House initiative called Winning on Food Waste, a collaboration between the FDA, USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency to educate consumers on ways to reduce food waste and how to do it safely without risking illness from consuming spoiled food.

Learn More:
Winning on Reducing Food Waste
FDA Letter to Food Industry, May 23, 2019
FDA’s Food Waste and Loss Resource Page, May 23, 2019

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Butter Labeling Wars: Wisconsin Dairy Industry Takes On Plant-based “Butter”

Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

Originally appeared in New Hope’s IdeaXchange, July 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Until recently, the U.S. dairy industry remained relatively quiet regarding the proliferation of plant-based products that use words such as “milk,” “yogurt” and “cheese. Now, lobbyists and policymakers for dairy producers in Wisconsin, the nation’s leading producer of butter made from cow’s milk and the state that calls itself “America’s Dairyland,” want to limit use of the word on plant-based products, such as the best-selling vegan “butter” sold by Miyoko’s Kitchen, reported Bloomberg News.  

This past spring, Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) instructed supermarkets to remove nondairy products that use the term “butter” on labels, based on complaints from dairy producers that these products don’t comply with the state’s definition of butter, which requires that butter be made from dairy-based milk or cream. After being singled out and pulled from several stores, Miyoko’s agreed to affix a sticker to the label that read “vegetable spread.”

Companies such as Miyoko’s are riding a wave of popularity for plant-based products, especially dairy alternatives, reports Fortune. Plant-based milk retail sales totaled $1.8 billion for the year ending May 25, 2019, a 6.5% increase, according to data shared from Nielsen. Cheese substitute sales totaled $117 million, showing 17.4% growth. Cashew butters were up to $12.6 million, representing an increase of 4.9%, Fortune reported.

Changing consumer preferences toward plant-based foods are often cited as a chief cause of dairy’s slow decline, however, vegan products using labels such as “milk” – or in this case, “butter” – are seen by the milk lobby as misleading consumers to unfairly steal market share.

An official at DATCP said the agency is not planning to enforce labeling laws on other dairy products, such as “milk,” however, it will follow the FDA’s lead in this regard. Regarding butter, however, “It’s been an important product.” Wisconsin products more than one third of all butter sold in the U.S., Fortune reported.

FDA, for its part, may seek to restrict use of such traditional dairy terms by plant-based food producers. As part of its Nutrition Innovation Strategy, FDA announced it is modernizing standards of identity, which “define through regulation certain characteristics, ingredients, and quality of specific foods,” said an agency statement from Scott Gottlieb, who served as FDA commissioner at the time of the strategy’s launch. However, a review commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) reported that 76% of people who commented to the FDA were in favor of allowing plant-based products to continue using dairy terminology. 

“The entire debate over the use of the term milk and other dairy terms on plant-based foods and beverages is a solution in search of a problem,” Good Karma Foods CEO Doug Radi told Food Navigator USA in January 2019. “Plant-based foods that can directly replace dairy-based products make use of the same terminology (e.g. milk, butter, cheese) because they serve the same purposes and are used in almost exactly the same way as their dairy counterparts (in cereal, a glass, smoothies, coffee, etc.) Consumers understand words in context,” he said. “Consumers think these words represent proper descriptors for the products and do not believe we are trying to pass off our products as a dairy product. In fact, we would not be successfully doing so, as consumers buying our products are looking for alternatives to dairy,” Radi added.