Which is The Best Packaging Date Code?

Packaging Date Code

Use by? Sell by? Best By? Which is the best packaging date code? Which should you use? Which do consumers like the most? Here are our answers.


Date codes directly impact the way consumers experience consumption. Alas, it’s still a source of confusion: different codes and standards still populate the market, making it hard for customers to understand fully the way products should be dealt with.

“Best by”-es mingle with “Sell by”-es, “Use by”-es, etc. Which to use? Which is best? Packaging Digest recently published a poll on the preferred date code phrase by food and beverage companies, and “Best by” was the one to win the game, (with a 59% of the votes).

Not all polled companies printed codes, though; while the 91% did, a remaining 9% didn’t. Their reasons, according to Packaging Digest, varied from the following:

[quote style=”boxed”]“Our product is direct retail for immediate consumption today” and “Very high product turnover rate. We do use batch coding for QC” to “Not needed” and “Our products are ‘thaw then sell.’ Date codes are applied at store level.”[/quote]

Some didn’t even print any codes altogether, while others blamed a confused packaging department.

From those who did print them, a 19% wrote “Other” phrases, further complicating matters. Some of the chosen were:

  • “Guaranteed fresh until printed date.”
  • “Discard after”
  • “Best served before.”
  • “Expiration date.”

Packaging Date Code

But how are customers expected to find meaning amidst this shambolic chaos? According to The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America, a September 2013 Natural Resources Defense Council report cited by Packaging Digest:

[quote style=”boxed”]“It is alarming how much [food] Americans throw away, despite the serious ethical, environmental and financial implications of this waste. An estimated 40% of food in the United States goes uneaten, and according to even the most conservative estimates, Americans waste 160 billion pounds of food each year.”[/quote]

A wastet that, futher emphasized, is caused by:

[quote style=”boxed”]“Misinterpretation of the date labels on foods.”[/quote]

But there’s still light at the end of the tunnel. Packaging technologies are slowly emboding the best date coding practices, as well as improving the overall quality and quantity of information being provided:

[quote style=”boxed”]The amount of information marked has increased over time. Where we used to see simple “best by” and “sell by” dates, now we’re seeing the addition of variable data such as country of origin, lot/batch and line specific identifications. In addition, some customers have been looking to non-continuous inkjet (CIJ) technologies like thermal inkjet and laser marking when their substrates and product lines are compatible. These other technologies can offer higher resolution text and images that can be helpful in enhancing the look of a product or packaging.[/quote]

Results will probably take some time to show, so we better start moving.


Sponsored by Derprosa, leading brand in biaxially oriented polypropylene films for packaging.


Source, (photos):

Main: http://www.oalgroup.com/autocoding/

Bar: http://www.markem-imaje.us/


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  • Kelly Quadrel

    Unfortunately this is still a hot button topic in the food and beverage packaging industry.. Inconsistent food dates for expiration and sell by are facing heavy regulation due to the amount of waste and costs associated..

    K @ http://www.quadrel.com