Date Markings and Storage Instructions

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Table of contents

Requirements

General

A prepackaged product having a durable life of 90 days or less and packaged at a place other than the retail premises where it will be sold must be marked with [B.01.007(1.1)(b), FDR]:

  • a durable life date (known as "best before" date); and
  • storage instructionsFootnote 1 (if they differ from normal room temperature)

A prepackaged product having a durable life of 90 days or less and packaged on the retail premises from which it is sold is required to declare [B.01.007 (1.1)(c), FDR]:

  • the packaging date (known as "packaged on" date); and
  • the durable lifeFootnote 2 of the food on the label or on a poster next to the food

The intent of the "packaged on" date requirement is to give retailers an alternative, but equally effective, method to express the "best before" date on foods the retailer may not have manufactured.

Note: All foods sold in Canada must be safe for consumption [4.(1), Food and Drugs Act]. A durable life date is not an indicator of food safety, neither before nor after the date. It applies to unopened products only; once opened, the shelf life of a food may change. Products may be found for sale after the "best before" date has passed as the date is based on freshness and quality rather than safety. When this date has passed, the food may lose some of its freshness and flavour, or its texture may have changed. Some of its nutritional value, such as vitamin C content, may also be lost.

Many factors can have an effect on the durable life of a product. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer or retailer to determine if the product has a durable life of 90 days or less and the specific "best before" date for the products they sell. The durable life of products or categories is not prescribed in regulation.

Any changes made to the durable life information that result in false or misleading information on the label are prohibited by Section 5.(1) of the Food and Drugs Act.

Exemptions

The following foods are exempt from the requirement to be labelled with a durable life date or packaging date [B.01.007(3), FDR]:

  • Prepackaged fresh fruits and vegetables (including prepackaged, chopped or shredded fresh fruit and vegetables);
  • Prepackaged individual portions of food served by restaurants, airlines or other commercial enterprises with meals or snacks (e.g., milk, cheese packets - as they are intended for immediate consumption);
  • Prepackaged individual servings of food prepared by a commissaryFootnote 3 and sold in automatic vending machines or mobile canteens (e.g., sandwiches); and
  • Prepackaged donuts.

Voluntary Declaration

Foods with a shelf life greater than 90 days (e.g., cereals, semi-dry cured or dry cured sausage, etc.) are not required to be labelled with a "best before" date and storage information or a packaging date and durable life information. If manufacturers and retailers choose to provide customers with this information, they must follow the required manner of declaration [B.01.007(6), FDR].

Manner of Declaring

Format and Language

In displaying the actual date, the year is shown first. Showing the year is only mandatory when its declaration is needed for the sake of clarity (i.e., when the durable goes into the next year). It is expressed by at least the last two numbers of the year [B.01.007 (4)(b), FDR].

The month shall be shown in words after the year (if the year is shown). The month must be in both French and English on consumer packages or indicated by using the specified bilingual symbols [B.01.007(4)(c), FDR].

The bilingual symbols for the months in the durable life date are as follows [B.01.007(5), FDR]:

JA for January
FE for February
MR for March
AL for April
MA for May
JN for June
JL for July
AU for August
SE for September
OC for October
NO for November
DE for December

The day of the month is required to be shown after the month, expressed in numbers [B.01.007(4)(d), FDR].

"Best before dates" and storage instructions (where applicable) or "packaged on" dates and durable life information must be bilingual on consumer packages (unless the product qualifies for exemption from bilingual labelling). Durable life information on a poster next to the food may be unilingual provided the product has a bilingual "best before" date on the label since only mandatory information on the label must be bilingual.

Examples of Acceptable Declarations

For foods packed at a place other than the retail premises:

Best before
12 JN 28
Meilleur avant

or if the year is not needed for clarity

Best before
June 28 juin
Meilleur avant

If storage instructions are needed:

Best before/Meilleur avant
JN 28
Keep refrigerated/Garder au réfrigérateur

For foods packaged on the retail premises:

Packaged on/Empaqueté le
12 JN 28
Best if consumed within 5 days after the packaging date appearing on the label/ Meilleur si consommé dans les 5 jours suivant la date d'emballage sur l'étiquette.

or

Packaged on/Empaqueté le
June 28 juin
Best before/meilleur avant July 3 juillet

Legibility and Location

Durable life information must meet the legibility requirements under the Food and Drugs Act. Additional information on these requirements can be found in Legibility and Location.

Durable life dates must be identified using the words "best before" and "meilleur avant". The words and symbols associated with the packaging date are the same as those prescribed for the durable life date except that the words "packaged on" and "empaqueté le" replace "best before" and "meilleur avant" [B.01.007(1.2), FDR].

In both cases, the words should be grouped together with the date, unless a clear explanation of the significance of the date appears elsewhere on the label.[B.01.007(4)(a), FDR]. An example of a clear explanation could be:

Best before: see date on lid

The "best before" date may appear anywhere on the package, including the bottom of the container, provided the location is indicated elsewhere on the label [B.01.005(4), FDR]. For example:

Best if consumed by the date indicated on the bottom

A "packaged on" date may be shown on any label panel, except the bottom.

Durable life information, when on the label, does not have to be grouped with the list of ingredients because subsection B.01.008(1), FDR specifically excludes the information required by section B.01.007 of FDR (i.e., durable life date markings).

Storage instructions (e.g., keep refrigerated) may be shown on any part of the label except the bottom [B.01.005, FDR].

Further Date Marking Information on Specific Products

Retail Packed Foods

Foods that bear a packaging date and are repackaged by a retailer must maintain the original packaging date applied when the product was first packed or weighed (as per B.01.007(1), FDR). This applies even when alterations to the product such as trimming, deboning, muscle separation and grinding that may require a change in common name to occur, as there is still the same, or part of the same, product.

If the product is removed from the display and significant processing has occurred to prolong the durable life of the product, for example, it is combined with other ingredients to create a new product, or is cooked or cured then the original packaging date is rendered meaningless. In this circumstance, a new date would be used. The retailer must consider the age and condition of the product when deciding the appropriate durable life information.

Foods that are thawed at retail prior to sale without being repackaged are not required to bear a durable life date or a packaging date. The requirement to apply date markings is related to the time that the product is being packaged. If a product is in a frozen state at the time that it is being packaged, then a best before date or packaging date need not be applied because the product is deemed to have a durable life date of greater than 90 days. In the case of single ingredient meat, poultry, marine or fresh water animal that are thawed prior to sale, the words "previously frozen" must appear on the label. Refer to Previously Frozen Meat and Poultry Products or Previously Frozen Fish and Fish Products for more information.

Shipping Containers

In the case of durable life requirements, the definition for durable life specifies "when a prepackaged product is packaged for retail sale". Therefore, the intent of the durable life regulations applies to products that will be sold at the retail level and not to shipping containers. A durable life date is not mandatory on shipping containers unless these are to be sold at the retail level of trade.

In addition, subsection B.01.007(6), FDR (which specifies that if a durable life date is declared it must follow the required manner of declaration) would not apply to a date marking on a shipping container that is not offered for sale at retail as it is not considered a "durable life date" marking system. However, if a shipping container is sold at retail, the durable life date marking requirements as set out under B.01.007 FDR are required.

Modified Atmosphere Packaged Foods

Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) is a technique that alters the proportion of gases within a package in order to improve the shelf life of fresh or minimally processed foods. Manufacturers must bear this in mind when applying "best before" dates as required. As the purpose of MAP is to extend the shelf life of a food, if the product is removed from a MAP container or package at retail, the durable life of that product may change and this must be factored into the establishment of appropriate durable life information.

If a manufacturer uses MAP, durable life information must be provided in one of the following manners when sold at retail:

  1. Product in MAP when packaged by manufacturer and sold in original packaging
    • Manufacturer required to apply durable life date and storage instructions (if appropriate) on label.
  2. Product removed from the MAP package or shipping container and re-packaged and/or processed further by retailer
    • Retailer required to apply a "packaged on" date and durable life information on the label or on a poster next to the food as required.
  3. Prepackaged product removed from a MAP package or shipping container without being re-packaged:
    • When the retailer removes the product from the MAP and offers for sale, this may affect the durable life of the food. Therefore, the retailer becomes responsible to ensure that accurate and truthful durable life information be provided for the food. This may be accomplished by applying a "packaged on" date reflecting the date the product was removed from MAP, and associated durable life information.

Other Date Markings

Expiration Dates

"Expiration date" means the date after which the manufacturer does not recommend that the product be consumed, and up to which it maintains its microbiological and physical stability and nutrient content declared on the label.

Expiration dates are not required on all foods, but only on foods for special dietary use. A food for special dietary use means food that has been specially processed or formulated to meet the particular requirements of a person [B.24.001 FDR].

The FDR requires that expiration dates must be used on the following products [B.24.001 and B.25.001 FDR]:

  • formulated liquid diets (a nutritionally complete diet for persons using oral or tube feeding methods)
  • foods represented for use in a very low-energy diet (foods sold only by a pharmacist and only with a written order from a physician)
  • meal replacements (a formulated food that, by itself, can replace one or more daily meals)
  • nutritional supplements (a food sold or represented as a supplement to a diet that may be inadequate in energy and essential nutrients)
  • human milk substitutes (infant formula)

These foods should not be eaten if the expiration date has passed as they have strict compositional and nutritional specifications which might not be met after the date.

Generally, the expiration date may be shown on any label panel, except the bottom. However, in the case of formulated liquid diets, infant formula, and foods represented as containing infant formula, this information can be shown on any panel including the bottom panel provided there is a clear indication of the location of the date elsewhere on the label [B.01.005(4), FDR]. There are no prescribed expressions for "expiration date", however, the term "Exp." is often used.

"Use by" Dates

The FDR state the terms "use by" and "employez avant" may replace "best before" for pre-packaged fresh yeast only. It must be presented in the same form and manner as the "best before" date [B.01.007(7), FDR].

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.

"Freeze by" Dates

It is acceptable to declare a "freeze by" date that is the same as the "best before" date in a clear statement indicating that the product can be frozen if not consumed by the "best before" date.

For example:

Best before or freeze by/ Meilleur avant ou congelez avant
June 28 juin

Storage Instructions

Low-acid Foods Packaged in Hermetically Sealed Containers

Low acid foods (definition) packaged in hermetically sealed containers (definition) must be commercially sterile [B.27.002(1), FDR]. This requirement does not apply to low-acid foods packaged in hermetically sealed containers if:

  • Low-acid food is kept under refrigeration and the statement "Keep refrigerated" and "Garder au froid" is carried on the principal display panel of the label of its container and of the label of the shipping container [B.27.002(2)(a), FDR] OR
  • The low-acid food is kept frozen and the statement "Keep frozen" and "Garder congelĂ©" is carried on the principal display panel of the label of its container and of the label of the shipping container [B.27.002(2)(b), FDR].

Additionally, this requirement does not apply to tomatoes or tomato products packaged in hermetically sealed containers where the tomatoes or tomato products have a pH of 4.7 or less after processing [B.27.002(3), FDR].

Related Information

Consumer Fact Sheet - Date Labelling on Pre-packaged Foods

Definitions

Durable Life

Durable life means the period, commencing on the day on which a prepackaged product is packaged for retail sale, during which the product, when it is stored under conditions appropriate to that product, will retain, without any appreciable deterioration, its normal wholesomeness, palatability, nutritional value and any other qualities claimed for it by the manufacturer [B.01.001, FDR].

Durable Life Date

Durable life date means the date on which the durable life of a prepackaged product ends [B.01.001, FDR].

Low Acid Foods

Low-acid foods are foods that have a pH of 4.6 or higher [B.27.001, FDR].

Hermetically Sealed Container

Hermetically sealed containers mean containers that are designed and intended to be secure against the entry of microorganisms including spores. Food and beverage cans are examples of hermetically sealed containers, and they have three hermetic seals (one along the side seam and the others at the top and bottom ends of the can) [B.27.001, FDR].

Packaging Date

Packaging Date means:

  • the date a food is placed for the first time in a package in which it will be offered for sale to a consumer or;
  • the date a prepackaged product is weighed by a retailer in a package in which it will be offered for sale for the first time to a consumer. [B.01.007(1), FDR]

Storage Instructions

Storage Instructions refer to such elements as temperature, light conditions and humidity.

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