The Issue with Food Date Coding

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.

10 thoughts on “The Issue with Food Date Coding”

  1. oh yea, such issues occur very often and especially if the people on the ground are not very keen. caught up with the same yesterday. the manufacturing date forms part of the batch and they forgot to change the month so read a month ago as the production date. had I not been keen to check at the start then a better part of production would have been affected. The line supervisor should ensure together with the quality control confirm the date of the first product from the line. the date should then be recorded. in case of stoppages or power interruptions, the date should be confirmed correct again.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experienc Muthoni. It is not only at the start of each year but at the start of each month.

  2. Date code verification to be done against the standard document as per shelf life of products,before start-up and same need to be documented. Frequency of inspection every 30 mins and in between short stops , break down of equipment date code verification to be checked and documentation to be done to minimise date code errors.

  3. Charmaine manley

    Thanks for sharing. Incorrect date code does occur in my line of business. Our Quality Technician are required to write down the code as a step in the verification process. It really does help.

  4. Happy new year to you all.

    About Date Coding at Brand, we worked to a Date Code Chart (We used to call it our daily Batch or Lot Code Chart) every year I would replace it before Christmas period and display it from the 1st of January every year in my QA Office, so when the new year came and work started the Line Leaders could see it when they came for their daily equipment. It was big enough and clear to read, it contained every month of the year and every day of the month we where in, and the year would be bold print at the top of the chart. The QA’s Check Sheet had a section on top of there sheet for the Date Code, and that was one of their Frequency Checks every hour and recorded.

  5. Thanks for the prompting and the issues raised. In my experience and working life as a foodsafety regulator over three decades,such lapses occur in date coding..Such lapses create difficult management situations for the regulator

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