Missing Date Code Frustrates Dad

Date codes on food and beverage packaging might not be required by law, but they're pretty necessary for consumers concerned about food safety.

Lisa McTigue Pierce, Executive Editor

July 20, 2020

Have you ever cooked an entire family-size package of frozen food because you’re not quite sure how long the food would be safe to eat? Me neither.

But this husband and father of two felt that was the safest solution when his carton of chicken nuggets didn’t have a date code, as he tweeted in his #PackagingFail above.

Many consumers don’t realize that, while frustrating, a missing date code in this case is not a crime. Except for dairy and a few other products, foods and beverages are not required by law to have a date code. Food and beverage companies voluntarily add date codes to tell consumers when they feel their product loses quality and, if eaten, might produce a negative experience — that is, cause consumers to not want to buy the brand/product again.

Over the decades, companies have tried different ways of communicating this “freshness” date. Most recently, the consensus has been that the language “Best if Used by” is clearest for consumers.

But we all can agree that no date is pretty confusing.

“Follow the nose. It always knows.” Anyone remember that from the Fruit Loops commercial? It’s the method my mother taught me for determining if food was safe to eat or not. Sorry to say, Mom, that doesn’t work so well with frozen food, though.

Would you cook the whole box like Chris Parr did or would you put it back in the freezer and hope for the best?

I can offer a few other suggestions:

• Write the date that you opened it on the carton and put it back in the freezer. (Is that even too scary from a food safety point of view?)

• Return the package to the store where you bought it and get one that does have a date code.

• Throw out the entire contents — not the best option economically or from a sustainability perspective.

What would you do?


About the Author(s)

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Executive Editor, Packaging Digest

Lisa McTigue Pierce is Executive Editor of Packaging Digest. She’s been a packaging media journalist since 1982 and tracks emerging trends, new technologies, and best practices across a spectrum of markets for the publication’s global community. Reach her at [email protected] or 630-272-1774.

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