What's on a Food Label? Date Marking and Storage Instructions

What is a date mark?

A date mark indicates the end of a food product's shelf life. Shelf life is the period of time that food can be kept under appropriate storage conditions before it starts to deteriorate. Manufacturers are responsible for determining the shelf life of their food products. Foods should be consumed before the date mark expires to ensure the food's safety and quality.

What food products require a date mark? (Standard 1.2.5)

  • Most packaged food products with a shelf life of less than two years require a date mark.
  • Date marks are not required for individual portions of ice-cream or ice confection, or for food products in small packages (with a surface area less than 100cm2) where there is no food safety concern.

What does a date mark look like?

  • ’Use By', ’Best Before', ’Baked On'/'Bkd On', ’Baked For'/'Bkd For' followed by a date or a reference to where the date is located on the label.
  • The date must consist at least of:
    • The day and the month for products with a shelf life of less than 3 months
    • The month and the year for products with a shelf life greater than 3 months
  • The day, month and year must be distinguishable and expressed in uncoded numbers in chronological order or letters when the month is written.
  • An example of a date mark for a food with a shelf life of less than 3 months: Best Before 1 March.

What do the different date marks mean?

  • The ’Use By' date:
    • Relates to food safety
    • Indicates when for health reasons the food should be consumed by. Providing the intact package is stored in accordance with any stated storage conditions the product should remain safe to eat until the ’Use By' date.
    • Foods should not be consumed once the ’Use By' date has past
    • Foods cannot be sold beyond their ’Use By' date.
  • The ’Best Before' date:
    • Relates to quality
    • Indicates when the food should be consumed by to ensure it remains at premium quality
    • Foods can be sold beyond their ’Best Before' date provided it is still fit for consumption
  • The ’Baked On' date:
    • Relates to bread with a shelf life of less than 7 days
    • Means the date on which the bread was baked
  • The ’Baked For' date:
    • Relates to bread with a shelf life of less than 7 days
    • Means a date no later than 12 hours after baking
  • The ’Packed On' date, or other manufacturer's or packer's Codes, may also be used but only in addition to a date mark outlined above.

Directions for Use and Storage (Standard 1.2.6)

The label on a package of food must include a statement of any specific storage conditions required to ensure that the food will keep until the date indicated by the date mark. It must also include appropriate directions for the subsequent use and storage of the food, where the food requires such directions for reasons of health and safety (e.g. Refrigerate after opening).

For further information contact:

The Public Health Unit at your local District Health Board
New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA)
Hotline: 0800 NZFSA1 (0800 693 721)

Email: info@NZFSA.govt.nz
PO Box 2835

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)

Contact us here

Date of publication: 23 January 2004

NZFSA Fact Sheets on the Food Standards Code at the time of printing include:

  • What's on a Food label? General Food Labelling Requirements under the Food Standards Code
  • What's on a Food label? Allergen Labelling and Warning/Advisory Statements
  • What's on a Food label? Alcoholic Beverages and Food


The information contained in this 'fact sheet' is provided for the purpose of giving a general understanding of the New Zealand food labelling compositional requirements to both consumers and industry personnel. It is not a professional commentary on the law nor is it provided as a basis of any decision making to be undertaken by the reader. It is general guidance only.

Every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained is accurate, however general information by its very nature cannot cover every specific to the degree of accuracy expected in the provision in professional advice. In addition, the Code will be forever changing and it is not intended to amend this general guidance every time the Code is amended. Amendments to the guidance contained in this document will be restricted to major developments only. Reliance should be placed on the wording of the legislation itself. This is available at the NZFSA website at www.nzfsa.govt.nz or from any government bookshop.

The Crown, its employees and agents do not accept any responsibility or liability, whatsoever, for any error, omission, interpretation or opinion which may be present, however it occurred, nor for the consequences of any decision based on the information in this publication. The Crown, its employees and agents expressly disclaim all liability to any person in respect of anything, and the consequences of anything, done or omitted to be done in reliance, whether wholly or partly, upon the whole or any part of the contents of this publication.

Updated 23 January 2004 2004/2