Expiry dates on food items must

The government’s move to ensure that packaged food items display information about their expiry dates, and not labels like “Best Before’’, “Best if Used by’’, “Use by’’ or ‘’Sell by’’ is welcome, because it will remove a lot of confusion or misunderstanding about their use from the consumers’ minds. A large number of food items are sold with these labels and their meaning is not clear. Minister for Consumer Affairs Ram Vilas Paswan has said that the label “Best Before’’ would be replaced by expiry dates. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission had pointed out that these labels are confusing and demanded that the Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSAI) should examine the issues connected with labelling. Most manufacturers of food items do not give an expiry date but give a date before which they claim the items are best used. This is misleading.

These labels may at best be indicative of the qualities of a food item, like freshness, taste, consistency or nutritive value, but they do not indicate safety. They may give the impression that they can be used after the “Best by’’ date. But they do not say for how long they can be used after the given date. The manufacturer may actually be avoiding the responsibility for safety by not giving a clear date of expiry. It is also not known how these “Best by’’ dates are decided. It seems the manufacturers decide these dates themselves on the basis of criteria which others are not privy to. Manufacturers of the same items with the same date of manufacture may give different “Best by’’ dates. The prescription may be valid only if the food item is kept unopened or in climatic, temperature or other conditions assumed by the manufacturer. Many people get the impression that it is not bad to use an item after the date, though they may not get the best quality. On the other hand, if the item does not become unsafe or does not lose much value, throwing it away may amount to wastage.

It is best to avoid this confusion and prescribe an expiry date on the packets. But how would the expiry dates be decided for different kinds of food items manufactured in different ways? Can the decision be left to the
manufacturers, and what will be the role of the FSSAI, which is unable to discharge even its present responsibilities. A clear statement of the expiry date is needed to ensure safety and to give confidence to the consumer.

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