Date Marking Keeps Food Safety in Check


Dating and labeling potentially hazardous foods is an important part of maintaining quality and preventing foodborne illness. Even if food is held at the proper temperatures, bacteria will still grow but at a lesser rate. Ready to eat/potentially hazardous foods (RTE/PHF) shouldn’t be held for longer than 7 days to ensure the growth of bacteria doesn’t reach dangerous levels.

Date Marking is required for foods that meet the following criteria:

  • Ready to eat
  • Potentially hazardous
  • Refrigerated
  • Held for more than 24 hours

Best Practices for Date Marking

After food is prepared, label the container with the name of the product, the date it was made, and who prepared it. Make sure someone is responsible for checking container dates for proper food rotation and discarding any food that has gone beyond 7 days (e.g., prepared sauces, meatloaf, lasagna, dressings, cooked meats, etc.).

Not only is foodborne illness a possibility, but the quality of food diminishes greatly each day the food isn’t served and sits in a storage unit. Be sure not to overprep or overcook food products as this might lead to waste and increased food cost. Only cook enough to meet demand for a week at the most.

Exceptions for Date Marking Food

Date marking food is a must for preventing foodborne illness; however, note that there are exceptions. The list below references some of the most commonly mishandled foods when it comes to date marking. Once familiar with these exceptions, kitchen staff can be more confident and proactive in knowing which foods are expired and which need labeling.

  • Commercially processed salad dressings do not need date marking. But any dressings made from scratch in a restaurant kitchen need to be date marked.
  • Uncut commercially processed cured meats such as sausage, salami, bacon, pork, ham, and other luncheon meats do not need to be date marked.
  • Uncut melons and tomatoes do not need to be date marked.
  • Soft cheeses such as camembert, brie, feta, ricotta salata, and humboldt fog must be date marked (most soft cheeses should be used within 1–2 days of purchase).
  • Semi-soft cheeses such as gouda, swiss, colby, blue, asadero, mozzarella, casero, havarti, jack, provolone, and processed American do not need date marking.
  • Hard cheeses such as romano, pecorino, parmesan, cheddar, and gruyere do not need to be date marked.

Most food operations don’t think they need to date mark because they go through all their product every couple of days, but if food isn’t labeled or dated, then how can kitchen staff properly rotate food? As a health inspector, I have done many inspections where I found old moldy food in the very back of a walk-in unit because the food wasn’t rotated. Not only is this a problem if the old food makes it onto someone’s plate, but this practice can lead to fines and unwanted enforcement actions if found by the health department. Avoid wast, protect food quality, prevent foodborne illness—ALWAYS DATE MARK YOUR FOOD!

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