Perfect Packaging: Date Code Legislation Breakdown

Have questions about date coding legislation? This simple guide will give you an overview of the coding guidelines facing a few major industries.

Go to any grocery store and pick up a packaged product. If you choose a packet of food, a bottled beverage, a cleaning product, or an over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceutical, you will likely find a date code somewhere on the product packaging. 

Along with lot codes, serial numbers, and barcodes, date codes are an important part of modern traceability best practices. By applying these markings onto product packaging, companies are able to accurately locate where individual goods are located at every point of the supply chain. 

Beyond traceability purposes, date codes also play the important role of communicating to consumers when products are no longer safe for consumption. Without this information, they could become seriously ill from expired food, beverages, and drug products. 

Due to these reasons, most distribution networks require their manufacturing partners to place date codes on all perishable items. If the codes are placed incorrectly, absent, or unreadable, it can lead to recalls, fines, and assorted supply chain issues. With these issues in mind, companies may also wonder about possible legal ramifications. 

If you have these concerns, here’s what you need to know about date coding legislation.

Date Coding Legislations on a Federal Level

Given the omnipresent expiration date codes placed on perishable food products, beverages, cleaning products, and more, it may be surprising to learn that date coding goes largely unaddressed on a federal level. While it’s true that government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have all published their own labeling guidelines, these instructions don’t often include mentions of date coding. 

For example, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA)—enacted in 1967 and enforced by both the FTC and FDA—is a piece of legislation that addresses the packaging of consumer commodities (i.e., any retail material that is packaged for personal consumption, personal care, or household use). To directly quote the FPLA’s text, all consumer commodities must bear the following information:

  1. “A statement identifying the commodity (e.g., detergent, sponges, etc);
  2. The name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor; and
  3. The net quantity of contents in terms of weight, measure, or numerical count (measurement must be in both metric and inch/pound units).”

All mentions of date coding are notably absent. Across the board, other federal labeling standards mostly ignore “packed-by”, “best-by”, and expiration dates as well. However, there are a few notable exceptions, including:

  • Prescription Pharmaceuticals: Since the enactment of 21 CFR 211.137 in 1979, all drug products need to bear expiration dates on their packaging, or else the manufacturer is liable to face regulatory action.
  • Baby Food/Infant Formula: According to the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, all infant formula must have a “use-by” date on its packaging. Infant formula products that do not bear these dates are subject to recalls, and the manufacturer is liable to incur fines and other expensive consequences.
  • Poultry Products: The USDA’s 9 CFR § 381.126 regulation states that “either the immediate container or the shipping container of all poultry food products shall be plainly and permanently marked by code or otherwise with the date of packing.” 

Beyond these exceptions, the vast majority of date coding rules are set by either state government entities or supply chain networks.

Notable Date Coding Legislations on the State Level

Although the federal government largely refrains from enacting date coding legislations, state governments do not. As a quick comparison, the federal government only requires date products to appear on two food products: infant formula and poultry goods. In contrast, state governments often require date coding across multiple food industries, including:

  • Generic Perishable Foods (Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, Washington, D.C.)
  • Potentially Hazardous Foods (Alabama, Georgia, Nevada, Washington, D.C.)
  • Shellfish (Alaska, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, D.C, Wisconsin, Wyoming)
  • Milk and Dairy Products (California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, D.C.)
  • Meat Products (Alabama, Michigan, Washington, D.C)
  • Eggs (Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Washington, D.C, West Virginia, Wisconsin)

Similarly, state-level governments often extend date code requirements to industries like cosmetics, chemicals, beverages, etc. Consequently, if companies want to ensure code-compliance, they must have a comprehensive understanding of:

  • Federal standards
  • The laws within their own state as well as any states they distribute their products to
  • The policies held by their distribution networks

By understanding these different guidelines and utilizing high-quality marking equipment, manufacturers and packaging groups alike can avoid expensive legal troubles and enable complete product traceability.

Need Help Applying Date Codes to Your Products? Contact InkJet, Inc. Today

Following federal and state date code legislations is an essential part of preparing products for distribution and retail sale. Of course, to apply date codes, one needs to use the right marking hardware and ink for the application. This is where InkJet, Inc. can help.

For over thirty years, the team at InkJet, Inc. has helped companies find the perfect marking solution to fit their needs. Whether you’re looking for a new industrial printer, a new ink formula, or advice on how to improve your production line, InkJet, Inc. is here to support you.

To find information on date coding legislations as well as quality marking hardware and printing consumables, contact us online today or call 1(800) 280-3245

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