Consumer uncertainty about the meaning of the dates that appear on the labels of packaged foods is believed to contribute to about 20 percent of food waste in the home . That’s not surprising when you consider the variety of terms used with date labels, such as “use before,” “sell by,” “expires on,” and many more.
Manufacturers generally apply date labels at their own discretion and for a variety of reasons. The most common is to inform consumers and retailers of the date up to which they can expect the food to retain its desired quality and flavour. The key exception to this general rule is for infant formula products. These products are required to bear a “Use By” date, up to which the manufacturer has confirmed that the product contains no less than a minimum amount of each nutrient identified on the product label, and that the product will be of an acceptable quality.
Date labels are generally not required on packaged foods. While manufacturers are prohibited from placing false or misleading information on a label, they are not required to obtain agency approval of the voluntary quality-based date labels they use or specify how they arrived at the date they’ve applied.
It is important to understanding ‘best before’ and ‘use-by’ dates on food labels and how you must treat them differently.
Food may contain bacteria and if stored for too long or at the wrong temperature, can cause food poisoning. So, it’s important to understand the different types of dates and advice on food packaging.
Depending on the product, you will see one of the two dates on most packaged foods:
Date marks give a guide to how long food can be kept before it begins to deteriorate or may become unsafe to eat.
The two types of date marking are use by dates and best before dates. The food supplier is responsible for placing a use by or best before date on food.
A use-by date on food is about safety. Foods that must be eaten before a certain time for health or safety reasons should be marked with a use by date. Foods should not be eaten after the use by date and can’t legally be sold after this date because they may pose a health or safety risk.
This is the most important date to remember. You can eat food until and, on the use, -by date but not after. You will see use-by dates on food that goes off quickly, such as meat products or ready-to-eat salads.
For the use-by date to be a valid guide, you must carefully follow storage instructions. For example, if the instructions on the packaging tell you to refrigerate after opening, you should keep the food in a fridge at 5°C or below.
After the use-by date, don’t eat, cook or freeze your food. The food could be unsafe to eat or drink, even if it has been stored correctly and looks and smells fine. so, before the use-by date though so plan ahead.
Most foods have a best before date. You can still eat foods for a while after the best before date as they should be safe but they may have lost some quality. Foods that have a best before date can legally be sold after that date provided the food is fit for human consumption. (In certain countries)
The only food that can have a different date mark on it is bread, which can be labelled with a baked on or baked for date if its shelf life is less than seven days.
Foods that have a shelf life of two years or longer, e.g. some canned foods, do not need to be labelled with a best before date. This is because it is difficult to give the consumer an accurate guide as to how long these foods will keep, as they may retain their quality for many years and are likely to be consumed well before they spoil.
If specific storage conditions are required in order for a product to keep until its best before or use by date, suppliers must include this information on the label, e.g. ‘This yoghurt should be kept refrigerated’.
You should also follow any directions for use or cooking instructions that the supplier has put on the label.
Best-before dates are used to provide information about food quality. Most foods will have these dates.
As soon as you open any packaging, the shelf life becomes the same as if the product was unpackaged.
Food can be sold and eaten after its best-before date as long as it’s been stored properly. However, it may have lost some nutritional value and might not taste the best.
Products with a shelf life of two years or more, such as canned foods, don’t need a best-before date.
As long as cans are stored and sealed properly, they should last a long time. That said, if there are any signs of deterioration, don’t eat the contents.
Baked on and packed on are the other dates you’ll see on foods.
Breads with a shelf life of less than seven days can have a baked-on date.
Packed on dates on other foods tell you how long the product’s been sitting on the shop shelf.
This information isn’t mandatory but it’s handy for knowing how fresh something is – such as coffee beans.
Products that deteriorate, such as olive oil, may have a pressed on or harvested on date. This information lets you know how old the oil is – the fresher, the better.
Packaging dates may be confused with best before dates as they appear similar. However, packaging dates are displayed on retail-packaged foods with a durable life period of 90 days or less. The packaging date, or “packaged on” date, must be displayed in combination with the durable life period. The durable life period can either be a best before date or the number of days that the product will retain its freshness.
The purpose of the packaging date, in combination with the durable life information, is to inform the user of how long the unopened product will retain freshness.
An expiry date is not the same as a best before date. The Expiry date tell consumers the last day a product is safe to consume. Best before date on the other hand tells you that the food is no longer in its perfect shape from that date. It may just lose its freshness, taste, aroma or nutrients. It does not necessarily mean that the food is no longer safe to eat
These dates are required on certain foods that have specific nutritional compositions that could falter after the determined expiration date. In other words, after the expiration date has passed, the food may not have the nutrient
content as described on the label. Expiry dates are required for formulated liquid diets, foods sold by a pharmacist, meal replacements, nutritional supplements
and infant formula. If a food has passed its expiration date it should be discarded and not used.
How long it’s safe to keep a particular food depends on several factors: its water and protein content; its freshness and quality when you bought it; how it’s been stored; and the pathogens likely to grow on the food. Our table provides a guide to how long some common foods remain safe in your fridge once the packaging has been opened.
Consumer understanding and Responsibility
The food consumers better understand the variety of actions they can take to reduce food waste causing million dollars loss. Reducing food waste is a shared responsibility of both food industry/ retailers and consumers have an especially important role to play
Consumers can reduce waste include: