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Protocol for Expiration Dates and Product Labeling

We have all become accustomed to picking up a food product and checking the labeling for a date—but how certain are consumers (and manufacturers) about what those dates mean and how they should be used?

Consumers are throwing away unspoiled food by following these dates, and this misunderstanding of expiration dates and product labeling on food packaging is costing $32 billion worth of food waste every year.

So, what do food packaging dates mean and how should they be interpreted?

Womans hand holding milk bottle in supermarket

What Is Food Product Dating?

There are two main types of food product dating: open dating and closed dating.

Open dating is the calendar date applied to the label by the manufacturer. It provides guidance to consumers and retailers about when the product should be used. Closed dating is the code made of numbers and/or letters that indicate when the product was manufactured.

Open dates are usually pre-fixed by different phrases, including:

● Best Before

● Use By

● Best Used By

● Sell By

It’s these phrases that cause confusion, as consumers assume that products must be disposed of and not used after these dates. In fact, these dates are merely guidance on when the product will lose optimal quality.

The FDA recommends using a “Best if Used By” labeling system to minimize confusion for consumers.

How Expiration Dates Affect Food Safety

As long as the food or beverage packaging has not been compromised, and it has been stored as recommended, the product should be perfectly safe to consume long after the “Best Used By” date.

Instead of throwing products out after the “Best Used By” date, consumers should look for signs of spoilage. Indicators of spoilage include the smell, color, and texture of the product.

Once spoilage occurs, food safety can become an issue, and it is not recommended to consume the product.

What Types of Food Must Be Dated?

Although you’ll find open dating on most foods, especially on dairy products, poultry, meat, and eggs, the federal government has only mandated a “Use By” date for infant formula.

However, even though the government does not enforce product label dating, many retailers and agencies require manufacturers to use their date labeling system.

Food label on plastic film for meat with peremption date

How to Determine Expiration Dates for Your Products

The expiration dates are mostly determined by the manufacturers. How these dates are determined is up to the manufacturers, often through their own testing. Factors to take into account when determining your expiration dates include:

● Duration of storage

● Storage temperature

● Packaging type

● Food type and characteristics

Manufacturers will test the duration of optimal food and beverage quality during storage and, sometimes, hire external testing labs before deciding on an expiration date for their food labeling.

Work with Packaging Experts for Proper Food Labeling

If you’re unsure about how to properly label your custom food packaging, a packaging expert can help. At GCB Solutions, we install product coding and labeling systems with customized solutions for your package and labeling needs. Schedule a consultation and receive a project quote today.


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