Why do imported Japanese snacks have such short expiration dates?

As one of the largest food & beverage markets in the world, the Japanese pride themselves in their high standards and high-quality food manufacturing. To maintain quality, Japanese food manufacturers employ control measures such as using quality raw and packaging materials to prevent contamination. On top of that, Japanese food manufacturers also observe strict food inspection, hygiene management and sanitation laws.

In recent years, a change in health and wellness patterns among consumers has increased demand for fresher food with late production dates and short Use By dates. Freshness and food quality take precedence with many manufacturers using lower levels of preservatives and additives in their food. 

Some companies adopt ‘Additive-Free’ labelling or 無添加 (Mutenkaむてんか) in Japanese – signifying additives may not be present in large amounts in the food. 

Expiration dates

In terms of expiration dates, Japanese food labelling is split into two types– namely Use By date, "Shouhikigen" (消費期限) or Best Before date, "Shoumikigen" (賞味期限). These two dates are vastly different when it comes to whether the food is safe to be consumed after the date, as well as how long is it expected to maintain quality when unopened.

Before 1995, Japanese companies were required to label foods with their manufacturing date – but this presented a problem as consumers did not know for how long a particular product was safe to consume.

This resulted in “shokuhin rosu” or food wastage across the country, prompting the government to implement a new date labelling system, in line with international standards. Now, consumers are more informed when purchasing food products, leading to better overall food safety and health, as well as reduced food wastage.

Here are the main definitions according to the Consumer Affairs Agency to help you make an informed decision

Use By Date

The Use By date or "Shouhikigen" (消費期限) in Japanese refers to the specified date in which the product is considered safe to consume without risk of decay or deterioration if it’s unopened under the designated storage conditions. It is typically used for fresh, perishable products that may spoil easily – meat, sandwiches, boxed lunches, cakes, cooked noodles, cooked rice, and some sweets.

Once a product reaches this date, it is no longer considered safe to consume and should be disposed.

 

Best Before Date

The Best Before Date is called "Shoumikigen" (賞味期限) in Japanese, and refers to the specified date in which a product is expected to maintain adequate quality when stored properly under the designated storage conditions. The main difference is that some quality aspects might still be preserved but it is important to note that the taste may not be the best as intended by the manufacturer. Therefore, it will be up to the consumer to decide whether to consume the food after the Best Before date. 

This date is used for products that have a long shelf life such as instant noodles, snacks, frozen food, canned goods, bottled beverages and other less perishable food. However, once a good item is opened, it is best to consume it promptly.

Japanese Date Format on Food Products

When reading dates on Japanese food products, dates are typically written with the year in front in the format of Year.Month.Date. 

For example, 1 March 2024 would be written as 2024.03.01 or 24.03.01.

To maintain high safety and hygiene standards, many Japanese manufacturers are conservative with their best before and expiration date. Understanding the key differences between the two dates will help you make an informed decision. 

It is wise to use your judgement, always store food products properly and be sure to check the labelling on the packaging before consuming.

We hope this article helped you understand Japanese food quality, food labelling and expiration dates better.

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