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December 15, 2016 8:03 AM EST

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has asked meat and dairy companies to label their products with a “best if used by” date rather than a slew of alternatives that the agency says are confusing.

The USDA says the recommendation, which comes in the form of a Food Safety and Inspection Service guidance issued Wednesday, is an attempt to cut down on food waste. Nearly a third of the U.S. food supply is wasted by retailers or customers annually, often because consumers do not understand the labels, according to the agency.

“Research shows that this phrase conveys to consumers that the product will be of best quality if used by the calendar date shown,” the guidance reads.

The guidance is just a recommendation and food providers do not need to follow it.

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