Food safety labels help restaurants, grocery stores, and consumers store and consume food safely. Here’s what you should know about the four most common labels.
If you own or work in a restaurant or grocery store, it’s crucial that you understand basic food safety labels. These labels list important information about food items, including how to safely store them and when to dispose of them. If you’re unfamiliar with food labels or need a refresher, here are four of the most common types of food safety labels and what they mean.
Date marking is a process designed to curb the spread of the food-borne bacteria listeria monocytogenes, which grows at refrigeration temperatures. Food processing plants use industrial ink marking printers to mark foods that are ready to eat, require time or temperature control, or need refrigeration for freshness. Dated marked packaging includes a “prepared by” date—the date the food was made—and a “discard by” date, approximately seven days from the prepared by date. It also signifies when the food item needs consuming or discarding.
The shelf life is approximately how long you can store a food item in prescribed conditions before it goes bad. Shelf-life markings include: “sell by,” “best before,” and “use by.” “Sell by” indicates the date that stores should sell the product. “Best before” denotes the date a food item will gradually degrade in quality and flavor. You can still consume food past this date, but it may taste stale or bland. Lastly, “use by” is the expiry date of a product. Do not consume products past this date.
The net weight is the weight of the product minus the packaging. For example, the net weight of a fresh filet of salmon would be the gross weight of the product, including the packaging, minus the weight of the skin pack.
The storage instructions indicate how to store a food item to maintain maximum freshness. It considers how external factors such as light, temperature, and humidity affect the product and offers solutions for minimizing those effects. Some examples of storage instructions include “keep refrigerated,” “store at room temperature,” and “store in a cool, dry place.”
These are just a handful of the food safety labels you need to know, but with the basics under your belt, you can better monitor and maintain the quality of your food items and protect your customers from food poisoning.