Every food product needs a Best Before or Use By date.
Best Before is the longest date your products will remain pleasant to eat, i.e. without loss of quality.
Use By is the last date the product is safe to be eaten. This is midnight on the date shown.
Almost every food product must have a best before or use by, as appropriate. Getting that date onto your packaging is time consuming for small producers, but there a few different ways I’ve tried over the years:
- Hand written
- Sticky labels
- Fast drying ink stamp
- Labelling gun
Hand written is the easiest way, but not the quickest. It’s also easy to write this year’s date instead of next years, when your future date crosses the 31st December.
For medium batches (a few hundred boxes) I use a Dymo labeller. It’s a small investment but it gives a clear print out every time. Unfortunately there’s a lot of wastage with the sticky backs to peel off.
You can also get labels for the same machine that will stick to clothes, so you can use your labeller for lots of things.
Top tip: don’t try using a bigger label front a regular printer and cutting it up. Trying to peel a label that doesn’t have an easy peel edge or peel away strip like the labelling machines do, is really fiddly and takes a lot longer than hand writing.
Fast Drying Ink Stamp
Fast drying ink, poured into an ink stamp tray and used with a date stamper works well on matte finish boxes. For shiny, laminated boxes, it takes longer to try and is prone to smearing. You also have to maintain the ink tray and stamper, so ultimately you end up wasting ink. It’s good for medium batches of continuous stamping, but if you leave it for an hour and come, you have to start over with loading the ink tray and cleaning the stamper.
If you’re producing a big batch of products for a special event or season and the dates are going to be close together, get the shortest date pre-printed on your packaging.
It took me a week to make biscuits for a hamper order, so they should have a week of different dates. Instead I included the earliest date on my packaging design for the special order and had it printed as part of the design. This meant no time spent labelling after boxing. The risk is in the recall. If you need to recall your products, every product with that one date has to be recalled, not just the faulty batches.
You’ll not see them much anymore, but the old supermarket price guns are still popular for date coding. You can buy them in retail supply shops and on Ebay. They come with one or two line options, which means you can enter two different numbers, e.g. a Best Before date and a Batch number.
You’ll also need ink trays and stickers for them. You set the date on the gun and press it onto the product to stick it on. You have to press quite hard so they’re not suitable for delicate products, but you can peel the stickers off and apply them by hand too. They’re also small stickers, so ideal for small packs or individually wrapped items.