In August 2021, South Korea passed a historical change to its food labelling and advertising regulations to replace existing on-pack expiration dates with a new ‘use-by’ dates system, the first major change the country has made in almost 40 years.
The traditional expiration dates were ‘sell-by’ dates by which retailers were mandated to remove the products from shelves, generally within 60% to 70% of the timeframe that food is still considered safe for consumption.
The newer use-by dates significantly extend the timeframe that these products will be made available to consumers, as these are within 80% to 90% of the timeframe for safe consumption. It is also expected to reduce the amount of food disposed in-home by consumers based on the dates printed on-pack.
In the latest development on this regulation, the local Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) is now embarking on a national project to set specific criteria for use-by dates in various food products.
“MFDS will be conducting a project on calculating and setting use-by dates for overall about 2,000 items in 200 food categories between 2022 and 2025,” MFDS Minister Oh Yoo-Kyung said via a formal statement.
“To begin with, we will be starting with analysis on setting the dates for about 430 items within 50 food categories that require urgent attention and are considered high priority.
“These will include highly consumed foods such as hams, snacks, baby food, food targeted at children, bakery products and more.
“In preparation for the implementation of the new regulations in January 2023, provisional use-by date calculation methods have already been determined for 80 items in 23 food categories – studies have already been conducted for these and results will be published by the end of this year for food companies to set the use-by dates for their products.”
The 80 items for which provisional use-by date calculation methods have already been set include edible oils, snacks, juices, tofu, bread, RTE foods, fish cake, bacon, sausage and more.
“Firms will need to make sure to increase the length of the use-by timeframe for these items, for example tofu which previously had a 17 day timeframe of sale before its expiration date will now have a 23 day timeframe of sale before its use-by date, a 36% increase; ham will see a 52% increase from 38 days to 57 days; and bread will see a 53% increase from 20 days to 31 days,” said Oh.
“The aim of this new use-by date system is to [increase time on shelf] so as to decrease food waste and contribute towards South Korea’s carbon neutrality targets.”
Food safety concerns
Food safety is a big factor of consideration when lengthening expiration dates, and to minimise incidences of public health issues after this change, MFDS has also set out to test several indicators as part of this project.
“Various quality indicators covering sensory (e.g. smell, appearance), microbiological (e.g. bacterial count), and physiochemical (e.g. moisture content, pH, fatty acids) will all be observed and tested at various storage temperatures,” said the ministry.
“Food firms are expected to refer to these when participating in the project to test the products they are manufacturing for feasibility of these new use-by dates.
“A guidebook has been made available to the industry, which includes various factors to take note of including the quality safety limit timeframe (the maximum timeframe of safe consumption) and the safety factor (a correction factor to account for any unexpected quality changes due to the storage and distribution environment).
“These must all be taken into consideration when calculating the use-by date.”
The guidebook has been made available here.