Clearly legible, non-coded expiration dates including the year, month, and, preferably, day of expiration should be printed on the outside of all food product containers, and even on the containers of all non-durable non-food goods. “After opening, use before…(a certain amount of time)” should also be written on the containers of many types of food and other goods.
The “Use by…” or “Best if used by…” dates indicate peak quality, which is not really necessary for the consumer to know. What really needs to be conveyed is the expiration date, i.e., the estimated date at which the product ceases becoming reliably safe to consume. Obviously, the sooner a product is consumed, the better it will taste.
The maximum recommended times for properly refrigerated or frozen foods should be permanently printed on those food packages, especially meats, eggs, and other foods that may be often be inadvertently stored beyond their safe shelf lives.
All this information should be printed in a very clear to understand manner and in a way that will not fade or rub off the surface of the package.
Because of storage and handling variables, as well as the temperature histories of a product, it is very difficult to project a highly accurate expiration date for food. Ideally, what is necessary (but not yet available) is a cheap reliable way to assess the quality/ripeness of foods, fruits, etc., so that the consumer could be given an accurate assessment in real time.
More accurate dates printed on food packages will result in a lower quantity of food being disposed of due to consumer ignorance about the food safety. However, it will be inevitable that at least a slightly higher incidence of sickness will occur as a result of food having later expiration dates printed on their packages. Nevertheless, this trade-off may be worth the cost.