Food date labels are there to help consumers make informed and safe decisions about the products they are purchasing. Depending on what type of food you are buying, the date on the package can tell you when it should be eaten by, and when it should be sold by.

  • Date marks must be clear, visible, legible and indelible on any packaging.
  • It is an offence to alter or remove a date mark, only manufacturers and suppliers can do that.
  • Some foods do not have to carry a date mark.
  • Date marks usually contain the day, month and year.
  • Date marks can be long or abbreviated i.e. 31 January 2013 or 31.1.13, they are all acceptable as long as they are clear and understandable.

Types of food date labels on products

Open dating (calendar dates) are normally found on the package of perishable foods such as meat, poultry and eggs. Closed or coded dates are likely to appear on shelf products such as cans and boxes of food.

The ‘Sell-By’ date
This label will tell a shopkeepers how long to display the food for sale. It is usually used on perishables foods like meat, seafood, poultry and milk. As a consumer you should always purchase products well before their date expires. This way you’ll ensure its fresh and have longer to use it.

The ‘Use-By’ date
These dates are set by the producers of the food and is the last date that they recommended the product is used by for peak quality. They are mostly on food products that can go off quickly, or which are perishable and can present a risk of food poisoning.
Food cannot be sold after the use by date has passed.

‘Best Before’ dates
This is not a date is not a purchase or safety date, instead it refers strictly to quality taste, texture, and appearance of the food. Anything that goes over the best before date may still be safe to eat, but may not be at its best quality.

Packing codes
These codes are a series of letters or numbers on food packaging, they can occasionally indicate the date or time of manufacture. The code will help food manufacturers and suppliers to rotate their stock and quickly locate products in the event of there being a recall. They should not be mistaken for ‘Use By’ dates.

Storage conditions
If a food needs to be stored in a specific way for it to retain its quality, then those instructions must be included on the packaging. Examples; ‘Keep refrigerated’ or ‘Store in a dry place’.


Related links
Food hygiene course online