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Labelling

How should shelf-life be labelled on food products?
Annex X to Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 sets out the requirements for the display of either the ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date.

For ‘best before’ declarations the actual date of minimum durability should be preceded by the words ‘best before’ where the day is indicated, otherwise ‘best before end’ must be declared. Alternatively, the words ‘best before’ or ‘best before end’ can be followed by a reference to where on the label the date can be found.

The date must consist of the day, month and year, in that order and in un-coded form. However, not all foods will require all three i.e. day, month and year. The following applies:

  • Less than 3 months shelf-life – Day and month e.g. Best before: 23 January
  • 3-18 months – Month and year is sufficient e.g. Best before end: August 2015
  • More than 18 months – Year is sufficient e.g. Best before end: 2016


For ‘use by’ declarations, the date, or a reference to where the date can be found on the label, must be preceded by the words ‘use by’. This must be followed by a description of the storage conditions which must be observed. The date must consist of the date, the month and, possibly, the year, in that order and in un-coded form. Individual pre-packed portions must be marked with the ‘use by’ date

Is labelling of freezing dates required for frozen foods?
Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011requires the date of freezing or the date of first freezing to be given for frozen meat, frozen meat preparations and frozen unprocessed fishery products. The date of freezing or the date of first freezing must be indicated by the words ‘Frozen on …’ accompanied by the date itself or a reference to where the date is given on the labelling. The date must consist of the day, the month and the year, in that order and in un-coded form.

Is it illegal to sell food beyond its ‘best before’ date?
No, there is nothing in legislation that prevents a packaged foodstuff being offered for sale on or after its ‘best before’ date provided that the foodstuff is still in a fully acceptable condition. However, if the out-of-date stock is to be sold to the consumer, it is strongly recommended to indicate to the consumer that the foodstuffs are past their ‘best before’ date. This will assist in ensuring that the consumer is not misled as to the true nature of the product, which is an offence.

Is it illegal to sell food beyond its ‘use by’ date?
Yes, Article 24(1) of Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 states that after the ‘use by’ date a food shall be deemed unsafe in accordance with Article 14(2) to (5) of Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002 and under this legislation it is illegal to place unsafe food on the market.

Is it illegal to alter or remove a ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date?
Article 8(4) of Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 states that food business operators, within the businesses under their control, shall not modify the information accompanying a food, which includes the ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date, if such modification would mislead the final consumer or otherwise reduce the level of consumer protection and the possibilities for the final consumer to make informed choices. Food business operators are responsible for any changes they make to food information accompanying a food.

Is it necessary to provide instructions for use of foods as sold?
Where a ‘use by’ date is given it must be accompanied by a description of the storage conditions which must be observed. Otherwise, any special storage conditions and/or conditions for use must be given.

Is it necessary to provide instructions for use after a food is opened?
Yes, as ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates apply to an unopened food product, a manufacturer must provide instructions for use where it would be difficult to make appropriate use of the food in the absence of such instructions. This includes the requirement to label instructions for using the food after it is opened.

What if a product is opened but still within its ‘use by’/’best before’ date? 
If a product has been opened, then the shelf-life date on the label becomes irrelevant. Once opened, the manufacturer’s instructions in relation to the length of time the product is safe to eat after opening should be followed e.g. ‘use within 3 days of opening’.

How long should food businesses keep documents relating to shelf-life for?
European Communities (Hygiene of Foodstuffs) Regulations, 2006 (S.I. No. 369 of 2006) states that in the case of foodstuffs requiring the indication of a ‘use by’ date, the documents and records must be retained for three months after the expiry of the relevant ‘use by’ date.

In the case of foodstuffs requiring the indication of a ‘best-before’ or ‘best before end’ date, the documents and records must be retained for one year after the expiry of the relevant ‘best before’ or ‘best before end’ date, as the case may be. In the case of foodstuffs for immediate consumption, the documents and records shall be maintained for three months after the sale of the foodstuffs.


Last reviewed: 3/12/2014

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