Quick Guide: "Best Before" Stamps on Non-Food Products

Given their near-ubiquitous presence on supermarket shelves, best before stamps are often closely associated with food products. Taking forms like “expiration dates” or “use-by dates,” best before stamps are a form of date coding that informs customers of when it is no longer safe to consume a product. Despite the association with food, a number of non-food products are required to include these stamps on their packaging as well. 

Best by stamps are required by different industry-specific standards and recommended by guidelines from both the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). If these codes are not correctly applied, manufacturers may be forced to recall their products. These concerns most prominently affect producers of cosmetics and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, as retail distributors often require best by stamps to maintain safe vending practices. 

Over the course of this article, we will examine two of the biggest factors that determine whether your products require best by stamps: federal regulations and distribution channel policies. 

Federal Regulations and Best Before Stamp Requirements

Aside from infant formula, there are no consumer goods that are federally required to carry a best before date on their labels. Although, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act dictates that commercially sold commodities must carry labels that prominently display package contents, manufacturer title/location, and net product quantity. These regulations do not explicitly require any best-by date coding.

However, for producers of over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceuticals, additional labeling requirements are dictated by the FDA’s OTC monographs. 

FDA Regulations

Monographs were first developed in 1972 when the FDA established the OTC Drug Review, a process that evaluated the contents of OTC drugs to ensure their safety and effectiveness. Since 1972, the OTC Drug Review has been used by the FDA to regulate non-prescription pharmaceuticals by grouping them into categories based on use. From these categories, monographs are developed to act as a guide for acceptable ingredients, formulations, use, and labeling. 

Monographs mandate that the following information be included on all registered OTC products:

  • Expiration date
  • Title and the location of manufacturer or distributor
  • Directions for use
  • Control numbers
  • Statement of identity
  • Net quantity of contents 

Monograph guidelines apply to a wide variety of medical products, many of which may not immediately come to mind as pharmaceuticals. These categories include acne creams, antifungals, antiperspirants, dandruff shampoos, hangover relievers, and sunscreen. Given the diversity of products covered by these regulations, it’s important to research whether your products contain any ingredients that would place them into any of these categories. 

Even if a product isn’t federally mandated to display a best before stamp, many retailers do require them as part of their carrying policies, which we’ll explore in our next section. 

Meeting Distribution Standard Requirements

Retailers across the country have policies that detail what information is required to be placed on labels. Common requirements include lot codes, barcodes, QR codes, and best-by stamps. This information helps ensure traceability in the event of a recall, proper inventory stocking, and successful execution of the vending process. 

While these requirements will change based on the distribution channel in question, we can look at the policies that Amazon uses for their Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) service as an example of retail labeling requirements. 

FBA Expiration Date Requirements

The FBA system works as follows: smaller-scale sellers send their merchandise to an Amazon distribution center where all responsibilities related to storage, shipment, returns, and customer service are handled in exchange for 15% of the selling price. In this system, Amazon works as the retail front for the company. 

To make sure that no potentially unsafe or unusable products make their way to customers, thus tarnishing Amazon’s reputation, Amazon requires that all products subject to expiration be marked as such. With these documented dates, products that are nearing expiration can be discarded appropriately. Or, if a product recall occurs, the marked date can help with locating the compromised merchandise as well.

Although many of the goods listed in the FBA’s expiration date requirement guidelines are food, many non-food items appear as well. Here are some of the notable non-food inclusions:

  • Cosmetic products like mascara, eye shadow, blush, and bronzer.
  • Topical products like soap, shampoo, essential oil, deodorant, and skin cream.
  • Cleaning products such as detergent, cleaning solution/spray, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer.

While these listed products stem specifically from Amazon’s requirements, other distributors will have their own policies that will likely be similar. To make sure that your products meet distribution standards, be sure to inquire about the standards of your distributor/retailer. 

Do Your Non-Food Products Need Best Before Stamps?

Properly applying a best before stamp can be the difference between smooth sailing and major interruptions. Whether federal regulations are compelling you to apply these codes or your distributor needs to document expiration dates for inventory purposes, it’s essential that you find the right equipment to apply these codes. And since product packaging can be made from a wide range of materials, you need to make sure that you have the right ink/printer combination to print your codes legibly. 

For nearly 30 years, the InkJet, Inc. experts have been crafting ink solutions and helping companies find the best coders to fit their needs. During a consultation, we can have a conversation about your manufacturing line configuration, product packaging materials, and hardware needs to find the right coding equipment for you. Reach out today to ensure your product labels are compliant and legibly applied!

For more information on best before stamps and how to apply them, or for any other questions related to printers or ink, contact InkJet, Inc. online or by phone at (800) 280-3245.