Should there be a labeling standard for expiration dates?

27May10

Looking at some of the products around my apartment, it’s amazing to see all the different ways that expiration dates are shown. For instance:

– Black text printed on the top of a dark green plastic lid

– Gray text printed on a yellow package, below a bunch of sales-oriented messaging

– Text embossed onto the end of a box, with no contrasting color

Without any consistency in how and where the expiration date appears, consumers have to hunt and squint to find the relevant info. Aside from being an annoyance, this reduces the likelihood that store employees and shoppers will notice that a product is nearing or past the expiration date.

How can product manufacturers resolve this? For starters, ensure that expiration dates are printed in a high visibility location on the package, with a high contrast color scheme. Even better, one of the big consumer products companies could set out to create a labeling standard for expiration dates. Since every food package contains the FDA Nutrition Facts label, that’s a great place to start. In other words, a manufacturer could print the expiration date above or below the nutrition facts on each of their products.

A labeling standard for expiration dates? Isn’t that wishful thinking? Perhaps. But if even a single big product manufacturer decided to give it a try, I bet the others would quickly adopt the same approach.



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