The Madras High Court has ruled that ‘Best Before’ and ‘Expiry’ date’ on the labels of packaged foods should be two separate dates. The Judge has made it clear that packaged food products, which were not marked and labelled in the manner as specified by Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) 2006, shall not be sold or distributed. This order came in the wake of the challenge placed before the Madras High Court wherein Amrut Distilleries Ltd. had called FSSAI’s refusal to test samples as arbitrary. FSSAI authorities had refused to test the samples of Active Dry Yeast imported by the company as both ‘Best Before’ and ‘Expiry’ dates were the same. This matter had been referred to FSSAI by the Custom Officials after the consignment of Active Dry Yeast had arrived for import.
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has defined ‘Best before’ and ‘Use by date’ and also laid down the regulations of how to label this important information on packaged foods in FSS (Packaging & Labelling) Regulations, 2011.
“Best before” is the date on the label that indicates the end of the period in which the condition of the food, under storage, will remain as stated. During this period the food product will remain fully marketable and shall retain all those specific qualities which it is understood to have or which have been claimed on the label. After this date the food may still be safe to consume but the quality would have deteriorated. However, the food product will not be sold after the ‘best before’ date if it becomes unsafe for the consumer.
“Use by date” or “Recommended last consumption date” or “Expiry date” is the date on the label that indicates the estimated end of the stated storage period after which the condition of food will probably not have the quality and safety attributes normally expected by the consumers and the food shall not be sold.
The Madras High Court has accepted this definition of the two labelling guidelines as being separate and also said that using the same date for both is tantamount to misleading the consumer about the safety of the product. It was also pointed out that this was not the first time that the company had imported products that had the same ‘Best before’ and ‘Expiry’ dates. The previous import had been allowed to go through on an undertaken by the company that this would not be repeated. The petition of Amrut Distilleries Ltd. was dismissed by the Judge and the company also had to make a payment of Rs.30, 000.
The Judge further said that the label must contain specific information that would not mislead the consumer. If the ‘Best before’ and the ‘Expiry’ dates are the same then the consumer would form an impression that till the expiry the product would be the best and would not have deteriorated which was not acceptable to the court.