Let’s face it. Processed foods and pre-packaged fresh foods now form a major part of our daily nourishment, and because they are ready to consume or easy to prepare, they free us from the drudgery of food preparation and cooking and allow us to pursue more active lifestyles.
But we must keep in mind that it’s not a simple task to ensure that packaged foods are still safe and healthful to eat by the time we are about to consume them. This a major concern that engages the entire supply and distribution chain—from producers and manufacturers to their distributors and retailers down to the consuming public. The government, of course, has a critical role in this effort, for it has to enforce the standards that can ensure the integrity and quality of food products all the way to the point of consumption.
A major safeguard instituted by governments in most parts of the world is the mandatory open-date marking of prepackaged food products. This requirement is designed to prevent them from staying on store shelves or from being sold beyond their expiration dates or “best before” dates.
In the Philippines, it is the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) that provides and enforces guidelines for the labeling and open-date marking of packaged food products. Specifically, BFAD requires all packaged food manufacturers and producers to comply with the following regulations:
• The “Consume Before [Date]” marking must be indicated in the labels of packaged fresh food products, particularly those without preservatives (thus making them highly perishable), such as fresh milk and fruit juices, butter, cream, yogurt, chocolate drinks, bakery products, cheese and cheese products, cured meat products (not canned), frozen fish and meat, and baby food. The “Consume Before [Date]” marking is also considered as the “Expiry Date” of the product.
• The “Best Before [Date]” or “Best Used By [Date]” marking must be indicated in the labels of processed food products to signify that these can still be consumed safely even after the date indicated. However, this marking is to be taken to mean that within a few weeks after the indicated date, the quality of the product would have significantly decreased as evidenced by, say, a change in color, texture, appearance, or decrease in vitamin content.
Putting these open-date markings on their packaged food products is routinely done by their manufacturers and producers, based on the average shelf life of the food item as packed. The real burden of making the system work actually falls on the distributors and retailers of these products, particularly supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, and neighborhood sari-sari stores. The task of checking the shelves for expired or near-expiry products is likewise easy enough, but it is unfortunately also very easy to overlook—until it’s too late and complaints from irate customers start pouring in.