Accurate and consistent date labelling on-pack ensures that food is not only safe to eat, but at its best quality throughout its entire life. Getting this right can help to minimise unnecessary food waste in the household.
Food manufacturers need to ensure that they are communicating the correct information and advice on pack; the messaging needs to be clear, intuitive and easy for consumers to understand.
What is date labelling?
Date labelling is designed to guide consumers on how long food can be kept before the quality deteriorates, or once the item is unsafe to eat.
What are the meanings of a Use By Date VS a Best Before Date?
Use By Dates and Best Before Dates are the next step in date labelling and are the responsibility of the food manufacturer.
Use By Date
In the simplest of terms a Use By Date is designed for the health and safety of a consumer and you should not eat the item after this date. Items are also not legally permitted to be sold after this date as they pose health risks.
Best Before Date
A Best Before Date however does not mean that you cannot eat the food after then; it simply means that the quality or taste may not be ‘at its best’ after the recommended date. This style of date-labelling is determined by the manufacturers recommendation of “optimum consumption” to achieve the best quality product.
According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), who is responsible for all date labelling definitions, “Food items are legally permitted to be sold after a Best Before Date and until they are no longer fit for human consumption”.
Legally, the only food item that can have different date marking 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 provide a consumer with 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.
Storage and freezing advice
If there are additional ways to extend shelf life of the product such as freezing the product, preferred methods of storage such as a specific area in the refrigerator, or at room temperature, then let the consumers know this information on-pack.
Manufacturers need to be clear on-pack if the food is best kept stored in the packaging so that the product can remain fresh for longer. They need to communicate to consumers how long products should be kept frozen, include defrosting explanations and how to cook from frozen instructions. As an industry we need to ensure that the date labelling used on pack is consistent across all categories so it is easy for consumers to make informed and conscious decisions before wasting food unnecessarily. We encourage you to educate everyone within your business about the differences and help make a contribution to minimising food waste.