The Importance of Expiration Dates on Packaging

What do all the different types of dates on food mean?

With the exception of infant formula, the FDA does not require food firms to place “expired by”, “use by” or “best before” dates on food products. This information is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer. However, dating methods used are as follows:

Prodcut Expiration Dates

The terms below refer to how long the food can be safely consumed without worry of spoilage according to the USDA.

  • Use-By – This is the most popular method of notating food products that spoil quickly. Required in many countries for foods that do not show easily identifiable signs of spoilage (appearance or smell). Examples: dairy products, meats, dips, pre-packaged fresh foods, packaged fruits & vegetables.
  • Expires – This date tells you when the food product may expire. The food should be consumed on or before this date.

The next set of terms refers to how long the food product will be at its best quality according to the USDA. These dates are not indicators of when the food will spoil.

  • Best if Used By or Best Before – Refers to the date that food is recommended for best flavor or quality. The food item is likely to be safe to consume after this date, but may have lost some of its flavor, taste, or freshness. This dating method is used on a wide variety of packaged foods.

Finally these terms are provided for the assistance of the manufacturer, vendor, distributor, etc. according to the USDA.

  • Sell-By – This date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. These products should be bought before the date expires.
  • Packed On – Indicates the date that the food product was packed.
  • Baked On / Baked For – Indicates when item was baked (for bakery items with a shelf life of less than 7 days). The date tells the store how long the item may be displayed. Examples include breads, bagels, rolls, cakes, and cookies.
  • Can Codes – Canned goods often have a stamped code containing a series of letters and numbers. Part of this code contains a date. The information in the codes allows for tracking, shipping, identification in the event of a recall, and rotation of stock in the warehouse.

What about non food products, such as sun screen or cosmetics? Are expiration dates on these products necessary?

Sun Screen and Cosmetics Expiration Dates

Currently sunscreen products are not required to have an expiration date. However, many believe they should. An article in The Legislative Gazette, states New York is in the process of passing a bill that would require sunscreen products to include expiration dates. This bill has passed the Assembly and Senate, and was sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. The hope of this bill is to ensure that New York residents are not overexposed to sun’s UV rays. The UV rays from the sun are one of the leading causes of skin cancer in the US. This bill would require expiration dates on all sunscreen products.

In the US there are no FDA regulations for expiration dates for skin-care or makeup products either. However, most do include expected expiration dates after first opened. According to the FDA shelf life of products is the responsibility of the manufacturer to determine. The shelf life of eye cosmetics is more limited because of the risk of eye infection. The FDA states “consumers should be aware that expiration dates are simply “rules of thumb,” and that a product’s safety may expire long before the expiration date if the product has not been properly stored. On the other hand, products stored under ideal conditions may be acceptable long after the expiration date has been reached.”

The importance of expiration dates depends on the product. Consumers need to be aware of expiration dates and what they mean, as well as using their own best judgment.

Advantages of Flexible Packaging for Fresh Foods

Flexible Packaging for Fresh Foods

More and more companies are packaging their fresh produce in flexible clear packaging instead of the traditional mesh bags. Flexible packaging can provide a longer shelf life for fresh produce that don’t have a high turnover. Larger purchases are also a possibility with a multi-pack. Consumers might me more likely to take a multi-pack of peppers home over just picking up one pepper that has been sitting out and handled by who knows how many people.

Flexible packaging and fresh produce have many advantages. Fresh produce in flexible packaging provides portability, freshness and protects the produce. Flexible packaging is recyclable and uses less resources providing a thinner, lighter overall package. Single serving packages are easy to open and can be consumed on the spot, reducing waste. Fresh snacks like fruits and veggies in a single serving container are also more appealing for the on-the-go health conscious consumer.

An article in FGN (Fruit Growers News) states, “Demand for do-it-for-me convenience has been the big driver behind the tremendous growth of pre-cut, pre-washed and packaged fruits and vegetables for the past 15 years,” IFPA President Jerry Welcome said, “but convenience is now getting a big boost from growing concerns about obesity and health issues in general. 

Does it keep longer?

Fresh produce can be kept fresher longer within a flexible package. The package helps reduce light and moisture transmission keeping the food fresher longer.

Does flexible packaging show case the produce better?

That is a matter of opinion; however it does put it on the same playing field as other products. The flexible package gives it that same finished look as other prepackaged goods.

Does fresh produce in a flexible package help upsell?

Sure, it does. Most consumers are more likely to purchase a fresh combo pack, such as a salad kit because it is all-in-one. They are getting a fresh and healthy meal with the convinces of one stop.

More than ever before, there is a fight to get food products noticed on the the shelf. Fresh produce appeals to that on-the-go health-conscious consumer, giving the upper hand to fresh foods in a flexible package.

Label your flexible packaged, fresh foods with EPI’s Flex-Pac™ labeler.

Flex Pac

‘Made in the USA’ Labeling

Why has ‘Made in the USA’ labeling become such a big thing?
Made in the USA

Many have hopes that reviving manufacturing in the USA will create jobs.  From CNN Money, according to Dave Schiff, chief creative officer at Made Movement, a website that markets and sells only American-made products, “buying American has become personal. People are looking for ‘Made in the USA’ labels because they know that’s how jobs are created.”

An article from Business Insider states that many purchasing decisions are influenced by products being made in America.  In fact, companies making foreign products will attempt to mislead consumers by using patriotic packaging in red, white, and blue or use an American company address.

The ‘Made in the USA’ label indicates that the product is “all or virtually all” made in the United States. The ‘Made in the USA’ label is regulated by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Automobile, textile, wool and fur products are the only products in the USA that are required to disclose their content. Other products are not required by law to be marked or labeled with ‘Made in the USA’.

According to the FTC  “all or virtually all” means “that all significant parts and processing that go into the product must be of U.S. origin. That is, the product should contain no — or negligible — foreign content.” The Buy American Act requires that a product be manufactured in the U.S. of more than 50% U.S. parts to be considered ‘Made in the USA’ for government procurement purposes.

Also from the Federal Trade Commission, “The Commission does not pre-approve advertising or labeling claims. A company doesn’t need approval from the Commission before making a ‘Made in the USA’ claim. As with most other advertising claims, a manufacturer or marketer may make any claim as long as it is truthful and substantiated.” 3rd party regulator certifications are available, but not required to claim ‘Made in the USA’.

Are EPI’s products considered made in the USA?

EPI’s manufacturing plant and headquarters is located in southern York County. Here virtually all of our labeler parts are manufactured in this facility. All labelers are assembled here as well. Made in the USA!

3 Trends in Coffee Packaging and Labeling

Coffee - Fair Trade

What is Fair Trade?

Fair Trade helps poverty-stricken coffee farmers receive a minimum, fair price for their coffee. This eliminates their vulnerability to the middleman offering cash at a fraction of the coffee’s value. The fair trade movement has been around for more than a decade, but recently has gained traction with coffee consumers. Martin Smith states in his article, “The rise of the Fair Trade Coffee Movement”, that coffee is 40% of the total fair trade industry, which also includes products like chocolate, clothing, home goods, and more. Fair Trade could also mean long-term and more meaningful trading relationships. FairTrade America believes fair-trade is unique in offering four important benefits: stable prices, a fair-trade premium, partnership, and empowerment of farmers and workers. With Fair Trade, consumers, traders, companies, and the environment all win.

Compostable Coffee Bags

Two companies in North America are supporting their eco-friendly commitments with compostable coffee bags. Both McCullagh Coffee and Pistol & Burns use coffee bags that contain cellulose-based NatureFlex™ film from Innovia.

Pistol & Burns, a leading Canadian coffee roasting company, has packed its Fair Trade organic coffee in a paper bag laminated with transparent NatureFlex™ film. Innovia Films states that according to Roy M. Hardy, President, Pistol & Burnes, “Most roasted coffee sold in the world is packaged in either foil bags (coated in plastic) or paper bags (with a plastic liner). These usually end up going straight to landfill as they can prove difficult to recycle. However our enviro–friendly coffee bag can be organically recycled, which means it breaks down in a home compost bin.” The bags were developed by Genpak.

According to an article in PackWorld, McCullagh Coffee’s eco-friendly bag has a much simpler construction. The pillow pack is constructed using transparent, heat-sealable NatureFlex NE. “In applications such as this, where fast product turnover requires a much shorter shelf life, a single mono web structure is one option,” explains Innovia account director Christopher Tom.

Disposable K-Cup

K-Cup disposable/recyclable debate

In 2009 Nespresso launched a program called EcolaborationTM to work toward becoming a more sustainable business. Their focus today is “coffee, capsules and carbon footprint.” Each initiative is designed to achieve a goal of sustainability through sourcing their coffee responsibly, improving recycling of the pods, and also to reduce their carbon footprint.

However, the recyclability of K-Cups remains an issue. Consumers enjoy the ease of Keurig-like machines, but their biggest complaint is the amount of waste it creates. While brewing a pot of coffee results in compostable coffee grounds, an office that uses k-cups on a daily basis has a trash bag full of disposable pods by the end of the day. This was a topic of discussion on LinkedIn recently, where the question was posed: “How willing would U.S. consumers be to bringing coffee capsules to a collection center for recycling?” Response showed that some felt consumers would be willing to participate in a recyclable plan, where as others were not as positive considering the current poor statistics on recycling. It’s great to see some companies taking an initiative to solve a consumer pain point, and it will be interesting to see how the market evolves and what other solutions are found.

How do I know what labeler and/or label to use?

Labeler Needs

Have you ever been responsible for labeling a product? If you have, you know all too well the decisions and choices that have to be made. There are so many variables that need to be considered. For instance: What type of labeler do I need? Will the labeler that I have work? What kind of labels do I need? What label manufacture should I use? Who has the best price? These questions could go on and on, especially if you have no idea where to start.

Picking the right labeler and label for your product can be very overwhelming and darn right frustrating. There are all kinds of labelers and most label manufactures have a minimum order requirement. If you have never labeled a product before or if you have just had an overall bad experience, choosing the right labeler and label for the job can be very difficult. You question, how do I know what label application I need to use? Am I getting the right kind of label? What will I do with all these labels if I make the wrong choice? See, already more questions!

Here is what we suggest:

  • Identify your need.
    • What is being labeled?
    • What is the product made of?
      • Application surface and condition, (i.e. plastic, smooth, clean, rigid, etc.)
    • Where on the product do you want the label?
  • Where in your production line will the labeling process take place?
    • This will help determine the type of labeler and application needed.
    • Knowing the labeler and application you will be using will help determine label sizes that are possible.
  • What is the product’s environment? (i.e. indoors, outdoors, room temperature, freezer, etc.)
    • This answer will help the label manufacture narrow down what label/adhesive will work.
  • Based on the Product and the Labeler, you can then go to your label manufacturer. The questions above should begin too narrow down your options. Keep in mind there are many kinds of labeling adhesives. Share as much information with your supplier as you can to help ensure you are getting the best label for the job.
  • Graphic requirements might dismiss some more options.
  • Volume will narrow your selection even further.

Labeling a product comes with many challenges. EPI Labelers manufactures high quality labelers for packaging and promotional needs. We meet and exceed the demands of our customers, because we know each operation and packaging machine is different and we take the time to listen. So, if you find your self in a sticky labeling situation EPI Labelers has been supplying durable labeling equipment for over 30 years. Contact our sales department we will be happy to help take the stress out of labeling your product!

New GMO Labeling Update – Vermont

Vermont GMO Labeling

Will Vermont’s new law, requiring GMO labels, be the trigger that changes the nationwide rules?

GMO labeling is a movement that many are trying to kill. Major food processors and agricultural companies have poured millions into political advertising campaigning against this very law. Now Vermont has just signed a law that will require food companies to tell consumers which products on store shelves have genetically modified ingredients. This new law could flip food growers and retailers worlds’ upside down. How they serve millions of customers will need to change and it will cost them.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Vermont Gov. Peter Shulin states “Consumers want to know what is in their food. Elected officials will have to meet the demands of consumers or be rejected at the ballot box. There is no doubt in my mind this will spread across the country.”

This new law won’t go into effect until July 1, 2016. This will allow for preparation of rules about the labels. While no other state has a law like this, Connecticut and Maine have laws that would take effect if nearby states joined in. Similarly, many foreign countries require this type of labeling.

Those opposing this law characterize it as irresponsible. According to an article written in USA Today:
“Economic studies have shown that such a program could needlessly increase food costs on the average household by as much as $400 a year,” said Cathleen Enright, executive vice president for food and agriculture with the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

“These advocates willfully overlook the fact that GM foods have been principally responsible for increasing abundance and reducing the overall price of food,” said Val Giddings, senior fellow with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, which supports genetically modified organisms.

Some even feel that consumers should be more concerned with the pesticides being us as apposed to worrying about GMOs.

Backers of GMO labeling believe the consumers have the right to know what is in their food. They aren’t arguing GMO’s as a safety issue. The sentiment of Vermonters, the governor said in an interview, is reflected in an elderly Republican couple he recently met who cheered the labeling effort despite their distaste for big government. “They told me, ‘It makes us nervous when people don’t want us to know what we are buying,’” Shumlin said.

GMO or Non-GMO Labels

Whether the labeling debate continues state-by-state, or the federal government intervenes, it’s looking as though GMO labels will become mandatory. In an article “The Price of Your Right to Know” a report prepared last October, by the Washington State Academy of Sciences reports, “The costs of actual labeling are a tiny fraction of the costs of compliance and certification.” The GMO label is going to cost nothing compared to costs food producers will endure to segregate and audit GMO and non-GMO ingredients. The Washington State report estimated that annual costs today would range from $150 million to $920 million. The administrative expenses of auditing alone could reach $1 million. And as for the legal expenses that would arise from suits over contamination.

How will this affect your company?

Trends in Bottle Labeling 2014

What are some really cool drink labels you’ve seen recently?

What is popular in labels often has to do with what is resonating with consumers or what is fashionable today. Defining what is on top is determined by materials, coatings, effects and the over all design.

Retro Miller Light

Everything old is new again:

Miller Lite goes vintage. In March, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Heritage 1970′s look of Miller Lite would extend through September after going retro resorted in a much-needed jolt in Lite sales. Miller Lite has found it beneficial to go vintage. What once was old is new again. After six years of declining sales going retro just might be the come back Miller Lite is in need of.

Clear Labels Vodka

Achieve the disappearing act with clear labels:

Ultra-clear films that disappear on the bottle give a clean label look. They are paired with a smooth film liner and specialty high-clarity adhesives to deliver transparency and an exceptional wet-out performance. This is comparable to printing directly on the bottle. In general, Vodka tends to go with the “no-label” look. Improved control with pressure-sensitive labeling provides better control of packages to assure accurate and consistent applications for this style of label.

Labels Printed on Glass Bottles

Printing directly onto glass/plastic bottles:

Screen printed labels are baked into the surface of the glass resulting in a paperless bottle. There’s no adhesive, no frayed paper edges, and no chance of ripping or scuffing. This type of labeling gives you a label as durability. The look of screen printed labels really stands out on store shelves as while. 

Eco-Friendly Bottle Labels


Paper Boy Winery has a CARDBOARD wine bottle! This new eco-friendly design has a 67% smaller carbon footprint than glass. Labels that are too flashy undermine the eco-friendly message. Eco-friendly PaperBoy is packaged in compressed recycled cardboard, and is 85% lighter than glass bottles.

Dreaming Tree, what makes it eco-friendly: The bottle’s cork is sustainability grown, its label is made with 100% recycled paper, and the bottles are made using clean-burning natural gas.

Trends in bottle labeling are all about grabbing and holding consumers’ interest. If you’re thinking about re-designing your label and perhaps your process, come talk to us. We can help you choose the right labeling equipment to achieve your new look.

Labeling Myths We Often Believe

When reading food labels…What should we believe? Is it all just a Myth?

When a product states that it is “LOW” in something, it must be healthy, right?

Wrong! When a product is low in one thing it is general high in another. Lower fat content generally increases sugar content, in turn adding more calories. Daily percent values show that on average we should only be consuming 2000 calories a day. Well, we all know this is unrealistic by today’s standards. The average consumer will read the nutrition labels on the back panel, but continue to consume 2 or 3 serving sizes often not realizing it.

Made with Whole Grains

How many of us buy a product because the front of the product says “made with whole grains”?

I do. Whole grains are healthy for us and when we see “whole grains” on a package we reach for that “healthier” product. What we don’t realize is that many of these products use unbleached wheat flour as the main ingredient, and only a small amount of whole wheat flour. Whole wheat flour is lower on the ingredient list indicating that that product contains less of that ingredient, since ingredients are listed from most used to least in a product. The presence of whole grains is masking yet another truth. Whole grains are making up an insignificant portion of food, making the whole grain product no healthier than the regular stuff. Some products even go as far as saying they use whole grains, but use ingredients such as caramel to mimic the brown color of whole grains.

An article in Good Housekeeping states, “The Center for Science in the Public Interest argues that U.S. nutrition labels and ingredient lists should be more consumer-friendly.” Group the major ingredients and minor ingredients separately making it very clear to the consumer what they are buying.

Omega-3s are another ingredient many of us look for in our food. Fatty acids in omega-3s are healthy, but not all products labeled with omega-3s are a health source. You see, the FDA does not allow products to advertise that they reduce the risk of heart disease unless they meet multiple qualifications. For example, eggs have the word omega-3 on the carton, but nothing specifically stating a healthy heart. The FDA prohibits eggs from doing so because eggs are high in cholesterol. However, the consumer is being misled simply because they see omega-3 on the packaging.

Consumers are also taken by buzz words. We see healthy, low-calorie, low-fat, low-sodium, and gluten-free and we instantly think that the product must be good for us. As we can tell from the above information these words mean nothing. Consumers should be looking at the facts panel and paying close attention to serving sizes and the amounts of nutrients, calories, and fats. Remember often serving sizes are misleading because they are unrealistic by today’s standards.

Nutritional Fact Panel

There are so many other labeling myths we often believe. Don’t trust those misleading food labels with the myth you are buying healthy food. Check out only the legitimate facts on the nutrition facts panel.


Will Clearer Food Labels, Make Healthier Choices Clearer?

Changes to U.S. food labels could give consumers clearer information to make smarter decisions. Back in February the FDA proposed to update the Nutrition Facts label for packaging foods to reflect the latest scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease.  The roll out from the government has been accelerated and a lot of that may have to do with First Lady Michelle Obama who says, “let’s move and eat right.”

Proposed New Label

This major makeover could include the calorie count in a much bigger font, as well as a new category showing added sugars, often referred to as “empty calories.” Potassium and vitamin D would be declared. Vitamins A and C would no longer be required, but may still be listed.

But the most striking change would come in serving sizes. Updated serving size requirements would reflect the amounts people currently eat. An 8oz soda is what is considered a single serving now, but when is the last time you bought an 8oz soda? New 12oz and even 20oz would be considered a single serving and you would get the full calorie count. Ice cream now is a ½ cup a serving, but we eat about a cup on average so that would be the new acceptable serving size. Currently ½ a muffin is consider a single serving, but who eats half a muffin? The new serving size would be the whole muffin, and the same with bagels and toaster pastries. Yogurt however would go down. Currently 8oz is considered the single serving but we eat the 6oz cup so it will be reduced.

The new label is aimed at helping people manage calorie intake and cut sugar intake. The overall hope is the new labels would help consumers to eat healthier.

This change would affect over 700,000 labels, changing nutrition labels on just about everything you buy at the grocery store. You could see some labels in the next year and it could be mandatory in the next 2 years.

The FDA wants to make it easier than ever before for consumers to make healthier and informed choices that will support a healthier lifestyle.

For more detailed information go to FDA News Release.

The History of Clamshell Packaging

In 1978, the US inventor Thomas Jake Lunsford, took out a patent on his new package design, The Clamshell, a plastic blister package.

A plastic blister package is a term for several types of pre-formed plastic packaging for small consumer goods, foods, and for pharmaceuticals. The primary component of a blister pack is a pocket made from a formable web, usually a thermoformed plastic. This usually has a backing of paperboard or a seal of aluminum plastic.

A hinged blister is known as a clamshell. The name of the clamshell is taken from the shell of a clam, resembling both form and function. Clamshells are useful for protecting products against external factors, such as humidity and contamination for extended periods of time. Clamshells are often made of a shaped plastic material such as:


• Polystyrene
• Polyester
• Foam Sheets

The material can be made by thermoforming or by injecting mold into the desired shapes. A single piece of material is used for the top and bottom with a thin flexible hinge made from the same material as the two rigid pieces it connects rather than added separately.

Closing clamshells can use a variety of means of closing or sealing. Some have self-locking tabs, snaps, or have a friction fit. Others use adhesive, pressure-sensitive tape, labels, staples, or are heated sealed.

Clamshell packaging has been a popular choice among manufacturers for decades. Consumers can view the product while minimizing theft and damage. It is durable and can be used with interchangeable printed inserts so that one clamshell can often be used to package a number of products that are similar in size. Finally, empty clamshells nest well minimizing shipping costs and reducing the need for storage space. However, clamshells also created a substantial waste stream of hard plastics. In 2010, the packaging industry produced a more sustainable pasteboard blister packaging, while keeping the benefit of the clamshell design. The new design was made from recycled paper and plastic films. In addition to being better for the environment, the new designs provided a better base for advertising graphics. Folding cartons made of paperboard or molded pulp (packaging material, typically made from recycled paperboard and/or newsprint) can also be of a clamshell shape.

EPI’s Superior C-Wrap Labeling System provides clamshell labeling with ease. This system dispenses the label to the top, wrapping it around the front and applying it to the bottom. The label provides visual information as to if the package has been tampered with and remains closed until the consumer takes it home. Our C-Wrap System has taken a historically manually intensive process and made it simple and precise.