Australian Foods Standards Code requires that packaged foods must be marked with a date mark. It is the manufacturer’s or food supplier’s responsibility to determine shelf life. Hence, food and beverage products without date codes attract harsh penalties. It is to safeguard consumer health and safety.
A date code provides a guide as to how long before its quality will start to deteriorate or becomes harmful and unsafe to consume. The differences between use-by and best-before dates are:
Foods that are marked with use by date must be eaten before a certain time for health or safety reasons should be marked with a use by date. Foods should not be eaten after the use by date and can’t legally be sold after this date because they may pose a health or safety risk.
Foods cannot be legally sold after the use-by date. It is a safety and health risk. Bacteria may occur to build up and nutrients may be unstable after this date. Foods that must be consumed before a certain date, such as dairy produce, meat products, ready to eat salad or food and fish must be marked with use-by date.
Foods with best before dates are safe to be eaten after that date and will retain its taste, colour, texture and flavour, provided the food was stored correctly. Typically, if the food looks and smells as expected by consumers, it may be safe to consume, even after the best before date. Most foods have a best before date. You can still eat foods for a while after the best before date as they should be safe but they may have lost some quality. Foods that have a best before date can legally be sold after that date provided the food is fit for human consumption.
The only food that can have a different date mark on it 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 last longer such as canned foods, canned or bottled drinks, sauces, biscuits are date coded with best before dates. Food Standards Code states that all packaged foods with a shelf life of less than two years must be date coded.
There are a few exceptions to date coding policy; it is the foods that don’t require any date coding of any kind are:
Date coding must be highly durable and must be indelible. It must be easily visible to the end consumer, clear and easy to read.
The specific storage conditions are required to be followed in order for a product to keep until its best before date or use by date. The suppliers mostly include these instructions on the label. For example, ‘this yoghurt should be kept refrigerated’.
You should also follow any directions for use or cooking instructions that the supplier has put on the label.