My wife was driving me and our children to Collingwood yesterday. I was hungry, and found a power bar in the glove box, with a best-before date of
Yesterday was 20 February 2012, and my question is: had the best-before date passed yet?
In Europe, it is typical to write dates in the form “day/month/year,” so if this were Europe, then the best-before date would have passed, and I perhaps ought not to eat the bar. (Although the best-before date would not have passed by too much, and usually the time at which the food is spoiled is beyond the best-before date, so perhaps eating it would be OK.)
In North America, the year is usually last, but the day and month could be in either order. But there are six possible permutations of the six data, so although only two of the permutations are in common use (“year/month/day” is also used, but less commonly), there is still room for confusion. For something as important as best-before dates, shouldn’t we have an unambiguous usage convention? Clarity is courtesy, but when it comes to best-before dates, clarity could also save someone from illness.
But it is difficult to reach consensus on conventions, particularly in this case with products being produced around the world. So here is my proposal for ensuring that best-before dates will never be misinterpreted:
1. Always write all four digits of the year.
2. Always use a day that is at least 13.
Then it doesn’t matter which permutation is used. The dates 13/02/2012, 02/13/2012, 2012/13/02, etc., can only be interpreted in one way. And if a packaged food is good for a year or more, then altering the day by a few to ensure that it is at least 13 will cause no problems. In my situation, this would have saved me wondering whether the best-before date was 9 February or 2 September, or even some time in 2009 (2002 seemed unlikely).
If the food product is only good for a few days after packaging (which is the case for meats, bread, and some other foods), then it is unlikely that it will travel far, and the word for the month could be safely used.