The federal regulations regarding food packaging date codes are limited, while state regulations can vary a lot. Manufacturers have a lot of discretion when deciding when they should include a date label on food packaging and the label terms to use. While date code meanings do vary depending on the state and are not legally defined, there are some common types of date codes that are worth learning more about, especially if you are considering starting a food business.
Types of Date Codes
- Production Date: This refers to the manufacture date of the item, or the date that it was packaged.
- Sell By Date: This is a date that provides information to retailers on the shelf life of the product and when it should be taken off the shelves as it could be dangerous to sell to customers after this point.
- Best Before or Best if Used By Date: An estimated date by which the food product is likely to decline in quality and in some food items such as fresh meat, may be unsafe to consume.
- Use By Date: This indicates the last date that is recommended for using the food product; in some food products it may be unsafe to consume after this point.
- Freeze By Date: A date by which you can freeze the product to extend its shelf life and prolong its quality.
- Enjoy By Date: This date is often not clearly defined, but recommended by the manufacturer as the timeframe in which the customer should consume the food product for maximum enjoyment.
Industry Standards for Date Codes
Since the regulations of date codes at the federal, state and local government levels can be quite inconsistent, manufacturers and industry associations will often put their own standards in place to determine the content and form of date labels. Certain food trade associations have created voluntary guidance to companies for date labels. Companies such as Walmart require all suppliers to provide a ‘best if used by’ date code on all products. This date coder from Diagraph will make it easy for you to place all relevant date codes on food products.
Why Date Codes are Important
Although date codes are only required for some food items in forty-one states, they are an important part of the process of selling food items to customers. Date codes provide information to both retailers and customers to ensure that everybody has the best experience and is kept safe when buying food goods. Since certain food items will begin to become unsafe to eat after a certain period of time due to the development of bacteria, date codes make it easier for retailers to determine which items should be sold first and which food items should be taken off the shelves if they do not sell after a certain time. In addition, it also provides customers with information on when they should consume the food in order to avoid becoming sick as a result.
Date codes are a simple piece of information on food products that inform retailers and customers about the best timeframe for selling and consumption of the item.