If not a date code, then what?

By Lisa McTigue Pierce in Coding on August 21, 2015

Could there be a better way for consumers to determine if their foods and beverages are fresh and/or safe to consume than the often confusing and unregulated date code? Are smart sensor technologies or quick-response (QR) codes viable options?

The vast majority of respondents to an exclusive Packaging Digest poll don’t see it happening.

When it comes to smart sensors or indicator labels, only 1% say they are currently using them and only 8% say they are considering using them. But some of you are hedging your bets for the future. More than a quarter (29%) say they don’t know if they are considering smart sensors.

And 87% of respondents say, if they did use a smart sensor, they would add it along with the date code. Only 7% said they would replace the date code with the smart sensor and 7% didn’t know.

QR codes fare a little better but still don’t cut it. Half the poll takers say they are not using or not thinking about using a QR code to give consumers more information, specifically on the freshness or safety of the product. And more people say they don’t know (30%) if they are using or thinking of using a QR code than say yes (20%).

The current date coding system might not be the best, but a better alternative has yet to be found.

In both cases, the 30%-ish of packaging professionals saying “Don’t know” might be waiting to see what the other 70% of their peers decide—or what consumers or regulators demand.

 

Future changes and challenges

An increased use of technology isn’t the only possibility/probability for the future of date coding.

When asked “In the next 3 to 5 years, what changes and/or challenges do you see for date coding foods and beverages and why?”, several people also cited the need for standards, as well as the fear of government intervention.

But others were thinking beyond the obvious:

“I think date codes will evolve into letting the consumer know if the product is safe to eat, not just if it’s at peak freshness.”

“Coding is necessary for the consumer but the main problem is correct handling of food products.”

“Traceability is the main thing for companies to keep track of product. On the consumer level, knowing the shelf life is important so the consumer can make the right choice to consume. Perhaps adding more information to codes in the future.”

“When an R&D department comes up with a shelf life it is usually a conservative estimation of the actual length that the product is edible. If we shorten shelf life, good food gets thrown out. If we lengthen it, some products taste old or stale, even if they are edible. We need to educate consumers on their buying habits and start selling products with long shelf lives in bulk and short shelf lives in single packs. This way the consumer won’t be buying a dozen of something they only need three of. Things with the shortest shelf life get wasted most often.”

 

This is Part 2 of our Date Coding poll results. Part 1 of our survey results revealed that “Best by” was the phrase the majority of companies prefer to use for their date codes.

Part 3 will share details about the various options and preferences in coding technologies. Stay tuned.

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