A common cause for non-conformance is incorrect date coding applied to the finished food product. With the change of the new year, some businesses forget to change the actual ‘year’ on their date coding systems. This may also occur with a change of month.
Date Coding Essentials
Depending on where you are located and the type of food you manufacture, you may be required to include a date code on your finished product. Date codes are usually found in the form of expiry dates, use-by dates, best-before dates, baked-on dates, or produced on dates.
Date coding provides advice to the customer as to when the product has to be consumed. These could be based on food safety and/or food quality attributes. In-house, date coding can be used to identify work-in-progress and for stock rotation purposes.
Use-by V Best-Before dates
What is the difference between the two? Full descriptions are usually set by food legislation. However, as general rule, the Use-by date indicates that the food should not be eaten after that date. The food safety of the product cannot be guaranteed and people may get sick if consuming it.
The best-before date is generally the date that a food may be consumed by but does not necessarily mean you will get sick if the product is eaten after that date. There may be a loss of quality attributes like crispiness, colour, flavour or moisture.
Verifying your date coding
The easiest way to verify your date coding is to check for accuracy at the start of production. This is a visual check to see that the date is correct. The secondary check would be to check the first product produced in that production run.
For automated packing systems this means getting the first product through and checking that the date is correct. I always encourage that this date is then recorded on a check sheet as writing it down helps to confirm accuracy. You may also like to photograph or retain a copy of the product / printed packaging as evidence.
Did you get caught?
Have you ever forgotten to change the year or month on your date coding in your food business? Let me know by leaving a comment below this post.