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Date coding - Gavin Carragher, GALA Solutions

In Australia and New Zealand, we’re pretty hot on food safety. We have very stringent standards to help protect us from eating or drinking anything that might do us harm. One of the key regulations is that everything that is manufactured for human consumption has to include date information on its packaging. 
Food producers often come to us for help and advice in ensuring that their packaging and labelling meets these standards and in this article we share some of that knowledge:

Date codes - the basics
The most commonly used date codes are ‘Use by’ or ‘Best before’, and sometimes you’ll also see ‘Sell by’ or ‘Manufactured on’. 

Date codes are a really big deal for manufacturers - without this information, the product can’t legally be offered for sale and retailers won’t accept it. If date code label printing fails, some manufacturers have to shut down production until printing resumes.

So for food and beverage manufacturers, it’s essential to know how to provide date codes, and how to pick the best technology for printing them.   

The date code differs from other product information in two ways:

Between factory and store, a product has multiple levels of packaging, all of which contain the date codes. The date code information must be on every level of packaging and must be consistent across all of them.

From production line to supermarket shelf - the date code story of a chocolate bar

Let’s use a simple bar of chocolate to illustrate how and where a date code will be displayed:

Label ‘must haves’ 
For labelling to be effective, readability is of paramount importance. A label that can’t be read is simply a piece of sticky paper. Whether the information is being read by the human eye or by a scanner, it will be illegible if it fades, smudges or rubs off.  An illegible label means an unsaleable product and therefore a very expensive problem. 

To ensure readability, manufacturers need to choose the right technology for their application

You can read more detail on the pros and cons of each in Toshiba’s eBooks ‘Five things you need to know before buying a label printer’ and ‘Five common mistakes when choosing a ribbon’. 

Printer reliability

Because date codes cannot be printed in bulk in advance, but are created as the product is made, it is no exaggeration to say that manufacturing depends on the capability to print date codes. So reliability is the other key factor when choosing a label printer for date codes. Reliability is determined by the quality of the printer itself and by choosing the right printer for the volumes and demand of the operation. You can read in more detail about this in Toshiba’s label printing eBooks.

As you can see, there’s quite a bit to consider when printing date code labels, but the stakes are high - literally the difference between a manufacturers products flying off the retail shelves, or sitting in a warehouse. So it’s worth a bit of time and expert help to get it right. 

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