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In other words, like the federal measure, the California bill sought to develop readily understandable messaging to convey the timeframe within which consumers can safely keep and store food.To combat consumer confusion about product date labels, grocery manufacturers and retailers joined together earlier this year to adopt a voluntary standard wording on packaging about the quality and safety of products.Implementing a voluntary framework over time – as opposed to a mandatory federal standard – facilitates manufacturers’ ability to work the new date labels into other recent food labeling changes sweeping the industry.As such, from a consumer confusion standpoint, a uniform federal regulatory framework for date labeling is arguably not needed at this time.
Broad industry adoption of this new voluntary standard is slated to occur over time to minimize costs to both consumers and manufacturers and so that companies have flexibility to make the changes in a way that ensures consistency and maximum effectiveness across their product categories.
Nine states (Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah) do not require any food date labels.
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Underpinning the litany of varied and imprecise food labeling directives is the fact that – except for infant formula – product dating is not required by federal regulations. Such information is affixed to food product labels entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer. USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service regulates the labeling of meat, poultry and certain egg products and takes a similar approach to FDA in the realm of date labeling.
These poll results underscore the need for uniformity in date labeling. That is, USDA does not require date labels on USDA-regulated foods.