Food date and lot marking solutions for small businesses

Date marking guidance for England and Wales

Whether you’re a large retailer, small independent food manufacturer, or a home-based confectioner, if you wish to sell your edible goods to the public, it’s likely that your food will need to be marked with either a use-by-date or a minimum durability date.

If your business is involved in the manufacture or supply of food for human consumption, it is your responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the best-before and best-before-end dates on your item’s packaging.

Most prepacked foods must also show a batch and/or lot number for traceability.

In this blog we will not only take you through some of the details necessary to label your product packaging correctly, but also a cost and time effective way of printing these details directly onto your packaging.

Use-by date

Perishable food that is likely to pose a danger to health after a short time must show a use-by date.

Some examples of such foods include:

  • Raw meat, fish and poultry
  • Cooked meat
  • Dairy products
  • Ready-made meals
  • Salads and chopped vegetables
  • Soft cheese

The use-by date should be shown in the format “use by: day/month”, with the month written rather than shown in numbers – example, “Use by: 14 AUG” – the year can also be added if you wish, and can be shown in full (2021) or shortened (21).

Date of minimum durability

Minimum durability dates come in two forms, “best before” and “best before end” – the shelf life of your product determines which you should use.


Shelf Life Durability date type Required format Example of format Additional comments
3 months or less Best before Best before: day/month Best before: 14 AUG The year can also be added if you wish
3 – 18 months

Best before


Best before end

Best before: day/month/year


Best before end: month/year

Best before: 14 AUG 2021


Best before end: AUG 2021

Either of these options is fine – it is your choice
Greater than 18 months Best before end Best before end: Year Best before end: 2021 Only the year is needed for these items


Each date marking should be easy to read, clearly visible, and should not be obscured in any way.

Date exemptions

Some food items are exempt from having date markings on them, mainly due to their ingredients or the nature of the product.

Items that are exempt from date markings include:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables (whole items only – they must not be peeled or cut)
  • Wine, sparkling wine, liqueur wine or similar drinks that are not made from grapes
  • Fermented drinks, or mixtures of fermented and non-alcoholic drinks made from grapes
  • Alcoholic of a strength of 10% by volume or more
  • Fresh baked goods containing flour, such as pastries, cakes, and bread, that are usually unwrapped and consumed within 24 hours of baking.
  • Vinegar
  • Solid sugar and confectionery made almost solely of flavoured or coloured sugars
  • Cooking salt
  • Chewing gum

Lot marking

Lot or batch markings are necessary to enable a product to be traced or recalled if necessary.

As with date markings, the lot marking must be clear, visible, and unobscured.

Where only small batches are produced, it may be that the date marking (must be formatted as day/month) would provide sufficient information to serve as the lot marking.  Larger batches, or where items are produced more frequently will require a separate lot mark.

Lot marking exemptions

Some food packaging is exempt from having to show a lot marking, mainly due to the way the food is packed or distributed.

Items that are exempt from lot markings include:

  • Individual items that are not prepacked and are sold directly to the consumer. For example, sweets, fruit, and vegetables.
  • Food that is prepacked on the premises of the seller, or where the purchaser requests that they are prepacked
  • Items that are used as an accompaniment to another food provided at a catering establishment. For example, sugar, sauces, or salt sachets
  • Single portions of ice cream
  • Smaller batches of items that are indicated with a best before, best before end, or use-by date that consists of the day and month in word form. For example, 14 AUG.

Date of freezing

Frozen meat and frozen unprocessed fish products must be labelled with the date of first freezing. It should be shown in the format “frozen on: day/month/year”, with the month written rather than shown in numbers – example, “Frozen on: 14 AUG 2021”.

Key legislations

How to print date and lot markings directly onto packaging

Now that we’ve covered what needs printing to comply with regulations, you need to think about how to print that information onto your packaging.

Unless you are producing items in large production lines with inline inkjet printers, the likelihood is that you might need to start with something a little less expensive.  Our REINER handheld inkjet printers give a professional and compliant result without huge investments, removing the boundaries between SMEs and global manufacturers.

With our REINER printers, you can print onto almost any material including glass, metal, plastic, card, and paper.  You can also print onto any substrate such as smooth, rough and uneven.  Eliminating the need for additional labels.  REINER inkjet printers have helped many small companies win export deals with Middle Eastern consumers (who only except BB dates that are printed directly onto product packaging).

With the ability to print text, logos, real-time dates and times, batch numbers and barcodes, not only will you be able to comply with date and lot marking legislation, but with the added functionality of contactless printing, any fragile items within your packaging will be unharmed.

Put REINER printers to the test

Whether you’re just starting a new business venture or looking for something to help bridge the gap between small batches and large production projects, there is a REINER machine for you.  Don’t just take our word for it, see our case studies for more information on how we are helping changing food and beverage marking for the better.

If you’d like to put our REINER printers to the test, why not contact us for a no-obligation test print

Need more help?

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Call us on 0121 622 8900 or e-mail us with your requirements and we’ll help you find the right product for the job. 

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