Expiration Dates on Food Packaging: How Do They Work?

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Whether you’re a manufacturer or a consumer, understanding packaging is very important, especially when it comes to due dates. Expiration dates are one of the most important things to look at and understand when picking, selling, or manufacturing a product. Making errors here as a manufacturer could lead to sanctions and complaints while consuming expired products could be dangerous to you as a consumer. Let’s take a closer look at a few things you should know about expiration dates on food packaging.

What are Expiration Dates Exactly?

Many people assume that the expiration date is the date until which food is safe to eat. While eating food that is well past the expiration date will pose some risks, that doesn’t mean that a food is automatically unfit for human consumption the minute it reaches the expiration date.

In reality, expiration dates are about the quality of a product more than its safety. This is why you can still eat some products after they expire. A piece of cheese or bread will still look the same on the day after its expiration date and will probably be safe to eat, but it won’t be as good.

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As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as an expiration date. You might see “sell by” dates, or “best before” dates, but never expiration dates per se. Let’s take a look at what these terms mean.

What is the “Best Before” Date?

“Best before” dates are about quality. If you see something marked with a best before date and you consume it one or even a few days after this date, you shouldn’t have any health issues. The taste might be off, however, and it could affect some of the product’s qualities.

This will largely depend on the type of product. Dried foods like cereals may have a best before date, but will still be edible for a long time after, while things like sour cream or yogurt may start to change composition and have a strong difference in taste.

What is the “Sell By” Date?

“Sell by” dates mean little to the average consumer and are put there by a manufacturer to make sure that the product is sold when it’s still at its best. One thing many consumers don’t know about these, and all expiration dates, however, is that they’re optional. 

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Yes, you heard it, there is nothing forcing manufacturers to put these dates on their packaging unless they’re selling things like infant formula and certain baby products. However, it should still be a priority for manufacturers as it will prevent a retailer’s negligence from hurting their brand.

This is why we would suggest that you start looking at advanced packaging solutions that will make the sell by and expiration date visible on both primary and tertiary packaging. This will allow you and retailers to quickly identify boxes that contain products that shouldn’t be sold. Barcodes will also help manufacturers know when they need to cycle their inventory and keep tabs on their losses.

Here, the best solution would be to work with a team like Diagraph, found at https://www.diagraph.com/. They have all sorts of solutions for different industries whether you’re selling dried, fresh, or frozen foods. All of these have different packing needs and specificities, so choosing the right printing solution will be essential.

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As you can see, expiration dates are not as simple as you might think. If you still don’t fully understand them, we strongly suggest that you do a bit more research, whether you’re a manufacturer, retailer, or client.