The future of the 'Use By' date

Discover the shift towards dynamic shelf life and cutting-edge technology ready to revolutionize freshness management and perception.

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The journey towards dynamic shelf life

Use By dates

Use by dates are found on almost all perishable products, from chicken to bacon and bagged salads. These dates can lead to confusion among consumers, as they imply products should not be used after the Use by date. While fixed dates ensure safety and quality, they cause significant waste. 68% of discarded items are still edible, resulting in a staggering $470 billion of waste. Fortunately, the industry is striving to change this.

Industry trends

There are two trends unfolding: (1) a growing emphasis on enhancing customer awareness about Use by dates, and (2) the emergence of technology-enabled Use by dates. We believe that within the next decade, over 90% of food sold in retailers will no longer have a fixed Use by date. The transition to dynamic expiration dates has the potential to save consumers nearly $100 billion every year.

So why hasn’t this happened yet? Before we jump in, let’s revisit how Use by dates are determined today.

Spoilage testing

Food companies have a few different tests to assess spoilage. The most popular method involves taking daily microbial samples to determine the day the microbial counts exceed thresholds, typically set at 107 cfu/g (colony-forming units per gram). Another widely adopted method is sensory testing, where professionals evaluate the product’s smell, appearance and taste each day to identify the day it no longer meets quality standards. Both approaches aim to reduce the likelihood a customer has a poor experience with the product. The outcome of testing yields the product’s shelf life, which serves as a basis for calculating the Use by date.

New technology

Dynamic shelf life monitoring leverages tiny sensors embedded in the food packaging to measure temperature, odor, and microbial levels. Through real-time data collection, the Use by date is updated on a daily basis. This innovative approach generally yields longer shelf life and provides customers an added assurance in the product’s quality and safety.

Despite the potential benefits, the industry does face challenges when transitioning to dynamic shelf life monitoring. The two most common are (1) determining responsibility for sensor costs, and (2) devising a way to communicate these dates to consumers. Many companies, including BlakBear*, are actively addressing these obstacles, signaling a promising path forward.

While sensor costs are anticipated to decrease over time, retailers remain cautious as any increased costs should not result in consumers buying less product. This concern has lead to government intervention. Starting in 2025, some companies will be mandated to disclose CO2 emissions on food packaging, with food waste being a significant contributor. Concurrently, a growing sustainability movement is prompting consumers to make more conscious decisions about the products they purchase.

Currently, communicating expiry dates to consumers relies on printed labels. However, there is growing interest in alternative methods such as printing updated labels in response to changes in shelf life monitored by sensor data or exploring digital solutions that provide real-time information via mobile devices or other displays.

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog post on dynamic shelf life. Please reach out if you have any questions or if you would like to dive deeper into industry trends or the technology that is driving this change.

* Our groundbreaking sensing technology is peer-reviewed by a leading academic journal. Read the journal article here.


  1. The Wall Street Journal, Here’s Something Past Its Expiration Date: The Expiration Date itself.

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    Our sensors have 90% correlation with microbiological spoilage organisms

    Campden BRI concluded our sensor data shows strong correlation (R>0.9) with microbiological and sensory testing.

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