Date Labelling as a Food Safety Challenge: Manufacturers Need Better Guidelines

By Jaan Koel

From a food safety perspective, date labelling presents a challenge to many food producers and processors. Terms like “best before,” “use by,” “expires on,” “packaged on,” “freeze by,” “sell by,” etc., are not regulated, and, with few exceptions, manufacturers are not legally obliged to use date labelling. This creates confusion in the marketplace, and the risk that food that is safe to eat is thrown out, and food that is unsafe to eat is consumed by uninformed members of the public who are so overwhelmed by the variety of different date labels they see that they end up ignoring them altogether.

In the United States, date labelling is commonly used for dairy, eggs, meat, and shellfish, and some other products. A “pack date” is required for poultry products, along with a lot number for USDA-certified eggs. Some local governments, such as the City of New York, require expiration dates on milk cartons, despite the fact that New York State has no date labelling requirements. Nine States don’t use date labelling at all, except for baby food, which is legally required to carry a “use by” or “expires on” label.

Nine States don’t use date labelling at all, except for baby food, “Best by,” typically has more to do with specifying optimum nutrition, texture, and flavor than it does with food safety.”

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