National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission ( NCDRC) have taken up the issue of ‘expiry date’ and ‘best before’ labels on food items. According to NCDRC the FSSAI should look into this issue as these labels cause a lot of confusion in the minds of consumers. The organisation wonders if whether the ‘best before’ label means that the food will still be fit for human consumption six months after the completion of the ‘best before’ date.
Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Ram Vilas Paswan is of the opinion that food items should carry only “expiry date”, and not “best before” date since that does indicate the safety of the food and so has no meaning. The minister is likely to convene a meeting so that this labelling change can be implemented. Just one labelling ‘expiry date’ will indicate that the food should no longer be consumed.
According to Food Safety Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011 “Best before” means the date which signifies the end of the period under any stated storage conditions during which the food shall remain fully marketable and shall retain any specific qualities for which tacit or express claims have been made and beyond that date, the food may still be perfectly safe to consume, though its quality may have diminished. However the food shall not be sold if at any stage the product becomes unsafe.
Best before declaration on packages or bottles containing sterilised or Ultra High Temperature treated milk, soya milk, flavoured milk, any package containing bread, dhokla, bhelpuri, pizza, doughnuts, khoa, paneer, or any uncanned package of fruits, vegetable, meat, fish or any other like commodity gives a date with month and year up to which time the quality of the food will not deteriorate. The date printed on the label is usually from
- Date of Packaging
- Date of Manufacture
FSSAI definition for “Use – by date” or “Recommended last consumption date” or “Expiry date” means the date which signifies the end of the estimated period under any stated storage conditions, after which the food probably will not have the quality and safety attributes normally expected by the consumers and the food shall not be sold.”
In simple terms Best Before is the date the manufacturer says that the product retains its peak freshness. The ‘best before’ date does not inform the consumer about spoilage nor does it say that the food is no longer safe for consumption. On the other hand the Expiry Date on a food package tells consumers the last day a product is safe to consume. The food cannot be consumed even a day after that date because it could cause illness and in rare cases even death.
Best Before is just an indication of the quality of the food and ingredients. This means that after the ‘best before’ date there is no guarantee that the food remains as fresh or tastes and looks just the same or that the aroma and nutrients are100 per cent exactly they ought to be before the date. It simply means that the food may no longer be in perfect condition beyond the ‘best before’ date but it could still be safe to eat. On the other hand, Expiry Date indicates that the food has gone bad and should not be eaten at all beyond the date.
Reasons for confusion in the ‘best before’ and ‘expiry date’ and which are of concern to the NCDRC are that
- According to FSSAI foods that are labelled ‘Best Before’ can still be sold in the market. The question then is that for how many months after the ‘best before” date can such foods be safe to eat. Will they be safe to eat for three months, six months or one year?
- The ‘best before’ date applies to unopened packages of food only. Once the package is opened there is no guarantee of the ‘best before’ date or that the food will remain as fresh, nutritious and flavoured.
- Consumers cannot use their nose, eyes and taste buds to detect if the food is safe so how will they know if the food is still good to eat after the ‘best before’ date has passed.
- How do consumers know that the food has just lost some of it quality only and that the food has not been contaminated with micro-organisms or toxins since the food labelled ‘best before’ might not look spoilt after it has passed that date?
In most cases consumers throw away food that has passed its ‘best before’ date as they treat it just like an ‘expiry date’ so what is the need for two types of labelling? We have to wait and see what steps the FSSAI will take to make these labelling changes in food items so there is no confusion in the minds of consumers.