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Feature Story


How the different dates on a food label serve as guidelines

by Abel Francisco Elpedes, R.N., R.M.


The dates on food labels can be confusing—but it’s important to sort them out as safety in the food we eat remains a priority. On the other hand, we as consumers need to educate ourselves so we do not throw away still-edible food items, while keeping our family healthy. Just because a package reached its “best before” date printed on it doesn’t mean you have to charge off to the trash can and throw it away.

About the law

“Most dates are voluntary. With exception to infant products and formulas, most other food product expiration dates are not required by the law but are voluntarily provided by food manufacturers. Some dates have been used for marketing and quality control purposes of the manufacturers,” says nutritionist-dietitian and teacher Jenny Quines, RND, from Las Piñas City Health Office.

“In the Philippines, the Bureau of Food and Drug Administration is the responsible agency that promotes and protects the right to health of Filipino people from unsafe and unhealthy drugs, food and products that are sold in the market. Pursuant to Republic Act 9711 or the Food and Drug Administration Act of 2009, the State must enhance its regulatory capacity and strengthen its capability with regard to the inspection, licensing and monitoring of establishments and the registration and monitoring of health products,” adds Quines.

Republic Act 7394 or The Consumer Act of the Philippines is a policy of the State that protects the interest of the consumers; one of its objectives is the provision of information and education to facilitate sound choice and proper exercise of rights by the consumer by including labels on the products.

In Article 4, it is defined as follows:

Expiry or expiration date: the date stated on the label of food, drug, cosmetic, device or hazardous substance after which they are not expected to retain their claimed safety, efficacy and quality or potency and after which it is no longer permissible to sell them. Who needs precautions?

“Always remember that when feeding elderly, infants, children, and people with poor immune systems, abide strictly by expiration and use by dates. Especially on canned goods, if it [bulges] and [looks rusty], a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum may be present and may cause food botulism that can kill in just 12 hours after intake due to respiratory paralysis.” says Eleen Serafico-Gumpal, M.D., a pediatric consultant from Las Piñas Doctors Hospital.

Dr. Serafico-Gumpal lists some possible medical conditions if one disregarded food expiration dates:

• Botulism;
• food poisoning;
• salmonella infection;
• acute gastroenteritis;
• listeriosis; and
• dehydration.

Use your senses

Your sense of sight and smell—as well as common sense—must prevail, even when the label says it’s still ok to eat. Use the following guidelines, according to websites like and

Meats, fish, and seafood: Pay attention to sell-by dates. For best quality it is best to buy those products before the sell-by date particularly with meats, poultry and seafood. That being said, many of these products are still edible for several days after that date.

Dairy products: Liquids such as milk and cream are more perishable than solid products like sour cream, yogurt and cheese.

Canned goods: Many canned goods have their expiration and sell-by dates obscured to the point that one has to search for them on the container. A word to the wise: If the top looks "bulged" or darkened or rusty, toss the can out. Many canned goods are fine past one year but start to pick up a "canned" taste and quality does degrade.

Dry goods: Flour, sugar, salt, etc. These products do not expire and even the quality is not severely impacted with age. Exception: if the product has high oil content, such as rice, it can go rancid. Just give it a sniff; if it smells rancid, toss it. Also products like baking powder lose their potency so keep this rotated approximately every six months.

For more on this, and a handy guide to common food labels and what they mean, get your copy of the December-January issue of HealthToday magazine in major newsstands and bookstores.

a countdown for safety

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