Labelling and Packaging

How to set your food expiry date

Food expiry dates or use-by dates are a key indicator to inform your customer of the safety and suitability to consume a particular food product. Welcome to the HACCP Mentor series on Food Safety HACCP Compliance 101: How do I comply with that?  In this episode, we take a look at how to set your food expiry date. The food expiry date is also known as shelf life within the food industry.

Use-by date verses Best-before date

The majority of food safety legislation or food labeling legislation will require that all food sold to customers (that is packaged) contains a food expiry date. This may be in the format of either a use-by date or a best-before date.

The use-by date tells the customer the date to which the product is safe to consume (considering all storage and handling requirements have been met). A best-before date may indicate a loss of quality attributes such as colour, taste profile, staleness etc.

Check your local food labeling legislation to see if both use-by date and best-before date have been clearly defined.

Setting your food expiry date

Food expiry dates are generally set during your product development phase. It is very important to have an understanding of the microbiological, chemical and quality hazards of the raw materials used, the production process and also the finished product. A risk assessment is commonly used in this process. Potential hazards can be researched as a starting point.

When you have a good understanding of your potential hazards you can then have your finished food product tested for those hazards. This is usually completed in association with a food laboratory. Your product can be tested and assessed at various points in the shelf life process. For example, if you believe the product will be safe to consume up to 6 months, you would test at say Day 1, Day 30, Day 60 and so on. Your food laboratory is a good resource in helping with your initial testing frequency.

Using the food expiry dates of your competitors

Please do not use the food expiry dates set by you competitors.  The raw materials, technology and processes used by your competitors can and will most likely be very different to yours. This is especially the case in smaller boutique food business compared to a major food manufacturing company.

Verifying your food expiry date

Once you have established the initial shelf life, you still need to routinely check that the food product is maintaining that food expiry date. This is considered to be a verification activity where the question of “Is this food product still safe at the set food expiry date?” needs to be answered.

There are key times when the food expiry date or shelf life of your product needs to be verified. This includes:

  • Whenever you change the recipe or formulation of your food product. This can include changing the ongoing weights.
  • Whenever you introduce a new raw material or change a raw material used in your food product. This includes packaging materials.
  • Whenever you change the process used to make a product.
  • Whenever you introduce a new piece of manufacturing equipment to produce the food product.
  • Whenever you change the pack size of the finished product.

Practice in play

How do you establish and verify food expiry dates in your business? Share your methods with the HACCP Mentor community by leaving a comment below this post.

19 thoughts on “How to set your food expiry date”

  1. Hello, I am in the process of registering my home kitchen to do catering & ready made individual meals. I have read somewhere that I may not need to label a best before/use by date on my meals. Is that correct?

    If it isn’t, could anyone point me in the right direction of somewhere I can get those calculated best before/use by dates on my meals.

    Thanks

    1. Amanda Evans-Lara

      Hi Pauline, you will need to check your food regulations in your country of manufacture as it depends on the product type, storage conditions etc.

  2. Hi..
    Just want to share my experience on how i started setting the period where my products is safe to be consumed.

    At first , I let my product seat for a month and have it tested in the laboratory. When it passed the examination. I’ve set 1 month form the manufacturing date as its BEST UNTIL period. So I was then able to sell my products in the market.
    And then, I let it seat for 2, 3, 4 months and so on, and have it again tested in the laboratory, then gradually I changed the date where it is safe for consumption (BEST UNTIL).

    This is our own process. I would be glad to receive more techniques and strategies so that I can improve more.

    Thank you.

  3. I’m creating a soft pretzel kit for people to take home. How do I find out my expiration date? I’m so lost on this subject.

    1. Amanda Evans-Lara

      Hi Lori, you need to complete testing. Take a read of the section in this post titled ‘Setting your food expiry date’.

  4. Hello, we are starting small production of cold pressed flax seed so we need real expiry date, what is your advice. Should we send it to lab and wait till they examine it couple of times?
    TNQ

    1. Amanda Evans-Lara

      Hi Marina, yes, you would need to send it to the lab. They can also complete accelerated shelf life testing. Be clear on what your target micros are and also consider your quality attributes at end of shelf eg. colour, taste, texture etc.

      1. Hi
        We r also making paste from flex seeds we getting this stuff after boiling flex seeds

        How we can find expiry date and wt how can increase expiring dates
        Wt we can add more in to increase exp dates

        Any advice there pls

        1. Amanda Evans-Lara

          You need to follow the advisory listed in the blog above. You have to do safety testing to extend your shelf life a swell.

  5. So if I’m looking for a year shelf life, does that mean I have to wait a year to do the stability study before I can start selling the product?

    1. Amanda Evans-Lara

      Hi Dema

      No, you can undertake rapid testing. I suggest contacting your local food laboratory to get more information. After you set your initial shelf life, you would keep retention samples and then test at the end of the shelf life. This would be part of your verification program.

  6. Hi I’m just gathering some information for a small business start up. I am starting a prepacked, vacuum sealed frozen smoothie that u take home to blend. I am wondering what would the experation of vacuum sealed/frozen yogurt be?

    1. Hi Blake

      Unfortunately I am not in the position to provide you on an expiry date on your product. There are so many factors that need to come under consideration including ingredients, preparation methods and packaging used. I suggest that you work with a local laboratory to complete a shelf life study for your individual product.

  7. I want to start my own business of food. How do i start? I want to make it legal and be able to distribute to all the potential places to market it.

    Thank you

  8. How much year can we preserve anything in packet. Approximately
    Actually I want to start business of home ingredient like haldi ,dhani ,mirchi ,
    As a masala (garam masala)
    So what you think ?
    What will it’s expiry date
    How much year it will preserve?

    1. Hi Vandana

      I cannot give you a definite answer for the expected shelf life of your product. You will need to complete your own validation and follow the suggestions in this post.

  9. Whilst I agree that the methods described above are generally used within the food industry , I think little attention is paid to the possibility of growth of bacteria ,such as Listeria, that generally occur in low numbers and as such are not always detected. It is difficult to be sure that the samples taken for shelf life trials provide the confidence in the durability of all products and I suggest that in sensitive ready to eat products predictive modelling could be used to supplement the information provided by durability studies. If the model suggests a high risk of growth reaching unacceptable levels the life may need to be limited further or the product potentially adjusted (pH and Aw) to give a more hostile environment to the potential pathogen.
    Sampling is also a big topic not only for the ongoing verification but also for the shelf life determination. Using the worse case scenario for quality of ingredients and temperature conditions through the chill chain again helps to build confidence in the overall safety and validation of the shelf-life.

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