Date markings on SA food labels – super-useful guide

Among the plethora of labelling issues and regulations that appear to be unclear, date marking is one that comes to the fore in many countries, including South Africa.

Why is this seemingly straightforward requirement so often under scrutiny? And how do we ensure the requirements of the regulations are applied correctly? FACTS SA offers this advice….

The confusion around date marking is twofold. It is both the consumer not understanding the different types of date marking, and the industry’s concerns about potential risk should the consumer misunderstand the date marking.

Unfortunately, adding to this are date-marking practices that are sometimes incorrect, but can even be misleading, in certain cases. These include (but are not limited to) not allowing adequate storage time between the sell-by and best-before dates, as well as the fraudulent practice of re-labelling date markings on products.

These are some of the questions FACTS SA hears most often from its clients:

  • Does my product need to carry a date marking?
  • Should I use ‘use by’, ‘sell by’ or ‘best before’?
  • What are the differences between them?
  • What should my date marking look like?

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) finds the same issues plaguing the EU. As a result, they have come up with the following simple summation: 

The ‘use by’ date on food is about safety – foods can be eaten until this date, but not after, even if they look and smell fine. ‘Best before’ refers to quality – the food will be safe to eat after this date, but may not be at its best.

In South Africa, the information on date markings is not all to be found in one place in the ‘Regulations Relating to Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs’ (R.146/2010).

FACTS SA has thus created this simple flow diagram to assist food companies in correctly applying date markings to their products.

It is vital to ensure that all marketing practices, including (but not limited to) labelling, do not result in the consumer being misled. Through regulatory consultation, label evaluation and shelf-life testing, FACTS can help ensure that you are applying your date markings correctly.

To learn more about the South African labelling requirements, have a look at its regulatory workshops and on-site training options.

Other articles you may be interested in: Food Regulations & Standards ,  Regulatory and LabellingGoing global with your food labels.