What is it about dates on food?
This has led people to start looking at the dates they find on any food and has caused us some issues because of how are labels are presented.
A Canned Date!
In the last couple years of production, we have printed a Canned: date. (This could have also been a Packaged: date, as referred to in BC MarketSafe training, but Canned is 2 letters shorter and we were having issues with the space on the label).
Although it is not necessary, we put it on our labels so we can track our inventory. After the jars of stuff have been filled and cooled, I sit down at the computer and enter all the information. I put the date right on the label to save me time and energy, If I am printing labels for a batch of Cab Sheraz Jelly it takes me 2 seconds to put it right there on the label.
We keep track of all the produce we purchase or pick, by date, in a spreadsheet. We also keep track of where it was purchased and where it came from if it was not purchased from a specific grower. Fruit not used within 2 days of purchase is vacuum sealed and bagged with a date and number. When this fruit is used in creating a jam, jelly, preserve or other delectable delight, that number is transferred (often using a pivot table in Excel) to the Batch spreadsheet. The Batch spreadsheet is sorted by Date and then by Batch number. On a farm market day, we look at the dates and Batch numbers of what is going to the market and print the sheet containing those and take them to Farm Markets in case the Interior Health inspector wants to know. Keeping track of all of this, also helps us to get a HACCCP* Plan in place for our future endeavors.
* HACCP is a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the finished product.
With the date, right there on the jar, it helps us to ensure our inventory is fresh. And stock is rotated properly. After all, cross-referencing spreadsheets when you are dealing with hundreds of jars of stuff, can cause accidents….
When we start our next year’s production the Batch number will start at #1-yy (yy being the last 2 digits in the year of production).
Add in some confusion!!
We also include the statement “Use within 1 year. Refrigerate after opening.” Now does it mean the product must be used within 1 year and is that the Canned date?
Small batch canning should be used within 2 years if stored correctly. And it should be used within 2 months after the jar has been opened stored in the refrigerator. We don’t know how the person buying our product is going to store the jam. We store our “stuff” under optimal conditions and we try to sell it within a year of the Canned date. Any product sold after that date has at least one jar of the batch opened and taste tested before we sell the rest of the jars in the batch at a 50% discounted price. The most we have ever had left over was the 4 dozen jars of “stuff” we have on hand right now.
When we create our new labels, we will change that statement to read Refrigerate after opening and use within 2 months.
First the Canadian Government’s rules and laws on dates on food
Our Stuff falls under CIFA’s Other Date Markings section Other Dating Systems
Other date marking systems such as “sell by” dates, “prepared on” dates, “freeze by” dates and “manufactured on” dates may be of value to the consumer or the manufacturer (e.g., lot codes) and therefore are not prohibited on food products, provided they are not misleading and the label meets appropriate requirements. However, they do not replace the requirements for “best before” dates and any dating system that has the same intent as durable life information must follow the prescribed manner of declaration.
- CIFA’s Date Labeling on Pre-Packaged Foods Fact Sheet
- CIFA’s Processed Products (fruits, vegetables and maple products) section
Now that I have bored you silly….
‘Best Before’ confusion leads to needless food waste.
You open your refrigerator and find a tub of unopened yogurt with a Best Before date that says it expired three days ago. Would you toss it out? Most of us would. After all, “when it doubt, throw it out,” we’ve all been told. But most likely you would be throwing away perfectly good yogurt. As long as that yogurt had been stored properly since being bought, it would still be good a few days after its Best Before date. The same is true with milk, cheeses and countless other foods. Yet every year, thousands of kilograms of food are needlessly thrown away simply because consumers misunderstand what the Best Before date means.
Most people see them as an EXPIRATION date! Best before dates are only an indicator of quality. For example, You open your cupboard and find a tub of unopened yogurt with a Best Before date that is 3 weeks from now. THAT I would throw away.
“You can buy and eat foods after the ‘best before’ date has passed,” the CFIA says on its website. “However, when this date has passed, the food may lose some of its freshness and flavour, or its texture may have changed.”
In other words, Best Before dates are merely suggestions about how long a food will taste “fresh,” not whether it’s safe.
The only foods that the government insists must have expiration dates are infant formula, meal replacements and nutritional supplements. These must come with an “expiration date” because the vitamins in these foods can deteriorate, rendering them useless.
What might also surprise many shoppers: while the government requires Best Before dates on foods that will keep fresh for less than 90 days, it’s left up to food makers to pick those dates; there is little oversight from the government.
Another surprise: Those canned and packaged items in your cupboard? These don’t need to have a Best Before date at all. Not that it stops manufacturers from adding dates to such products anyway.
There are whole websites dedicated to explaining food dates.
Oh Yes, it makes me wonder why we do it…