Date labelling campaign
Which is the legislation in terms of food labels and expiration dates in Italy?
The Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011 provides all the mandatory and voluntary information that food business operators need to communicate to the consumers. Any food intended for supply to the final consumer or to mass caterers shall be accompanied by food information in accordance with the Regulation to inform the consumers’ purchase and consumption choices. Among the mandatory particulars, as per the Article 9, Chapter IV of the Regulation, labels of prepacked food must contain information on the date of minimum durability (the “best before” date) OR the “use by” date (source: Regulation No 1169/2011).
Which is the difference between “Use by” and “Best before”
Date of minimum durability (“best before”): it means the date until which the food retains its specific properties when properly stored. It represents an indicator for the product’s quality, for instance in terms of flavour, texture or aroma. The date shall be preceded by the words: “best before” when the date includes an indication of the day, or “Best before end” in other cases. According to the Regulation: “if need be, these particulars shall be followed by a description of the storage conditions which must be observed if the product is to keep for the specified period”.
“Use by”: it replaces the date of minimum durability for those foods “which, from a microbiological point of view, are highly perishable and are therefore likely after a short period to constitute an immediate danger to human health”. After the “use by” date a food shall be deemed to be unsafe in accordance with Article 14(2) to (5) of Regulation (EC) No 178/2002. 2. The date shall be preceded by the words “use by” and shall be accompanied by: either the date itself, or, a reference to where the date is given on the labelling, According to the Regulation: “those particulars shall be followed by a description of the storage conditions which must be observed” (source: Regulation No 1169/2011).
More information on the differences by the European Commission: here.
Where can I find the right storage conditions for a product?
“Any special storage conditions and/or conditions of use” must be provided by the food business operator. According to Article 25 of the Regulation: “1. In cases where foods require special storage conditions and/or conditions of use, those conditions shall be indicated. 2. To enable appropriate storage or use of the food after opening the package, the storage conditions and/or time limit for consumption shall be indicated, where appropriate” (source: Regulation No 1169/2011).
Why does the label contain a date of minimum durability if the products can still be consumed after the “best before” date?
The date of minimum durability is used for those products that are not are highly perishable from a microbiological point of view. The date of minimum durability represents the date up until which the food business operator guarantees that the quality of the products, for instance in terms of flavour or texture or aroma, are the same that it had once it was produced.
What happens to the products once the date of minimum durability is passed?
If the products have been stored according to the storage conditions provided by the food business operator, foods will not be unsafe to eat after the date and can still be consumed since they do not represent a threat to the consumers’ health.
Which are the products that present a “best before” label?
Foods that are usually labelled with the “best before” indication are: dried and tinned items, preserves and jams, in-oil vegetables, frozen items, UHT beverages (like milk or juices), sauces, spices and herbs, flour, cereals, coffee, tea and infusions.
Which are the products that present a “use by” label?
On foods that are highly perishable like (including but not limited to): pre packed fresh products like non-UHT milk, eggs, fresh cheeses, meat, fish, but also pre-packed salads and pasta.
What if a product does not present either a “use by” or “best before” date?
Subject to Union provisions imposing other types of date indication, an indication of the date of minimum durability shall not be required for: fresh fruit and vegetables, including potatoes, which have not been peeled, cut or similarly treated; this derogation shall not apply to sprouting seeds and similar products such as legume sprouts, wines, liqueur wines, sparkling wines, aromatised wines, and similar products obtained from fruit other than grapes, and beverages falling within CN code 2206 00 obtained from grapes or grape musts, beverages containing 10 % or more by volume of alcohol, bakers’ or pastry cooks’ wares which, given the nature of their content, are normally consumed within 24 hours of their manufacture, vinegar, cooking salt, solid sugar, confectionery products consisting almost solely of flavoured and/or coloured sugars, chewing gums and similar chewing products.
How do I know if I can consume a product after the date of minimum durability (“best before”)?
The date of minimum durability, the “best before” date, represents an indicator for the best quality of the product. Indeed, these products are not unsafe to be consumed after the date indicated on the label. In this case, consumers can check the products through their senses by looking, smelling and tasting a small sample of the food. The “best before” date is used by food business operators to communicate to their consumers the period when the products will be characterized by their best quality in terms of flavour, texture, or aroma. Consumers are empowered to check the products’ quality through their senses.
On the other hand, products that are labelled with a “use by” date, cannot be consumed past that date because they will be unsafe for our health. In this case, even though the products appear to be in good condition, consumers are not advised to use their senses to check them.
Why is it important to know the difference between “best before” and the “use by”?
Because up to 10% of the 88 million tonnes of food waste generated every year in the European Union are linked to date marking and misinterpretation of their meanings, from production to consumption. Indications on the “best before” or “use by” date represent useful information for final consumers but also for retailers and food services operators to manage their logistic and supply choices.
The European Commission, through its Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste, has identified date marking as one of the main issues to address to reduce food waste. Indeed, better understanding and use of date marking on food by all actors concerned, could prevent and reduce food waste in the EU. In December 2020, “a scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in order to support food business operators in the application of relevant EU rules. Helping food business operators in their decision making on the choice between “use by” or “best before” dates and on setting the appropriate shelf-life, storage conditions and open life instructions will improve the understanding and use of date marking and contribute to the better management of foods by all actors, which will have an impact on food waste reduction” (source: Date marking and food waste, EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste).
Kostas Koutsoumanis, Chair of the Biohazard panel of the European Food Safety Authority, declared: “Clear and correct information on food packaging and a better use and understanding of the correct phrasing (i.e. “best before” or “use by”) by all the actors involved can contribute in reducing food waste in Europe, while guaranteeing food being healthy and safe. The EFSA scientific opinion represents a step forward in this direction” (source: EFSA).