Kokua Line

June Watanabe

Freshness code
on baked goods
not required

Question: Some years ago, a color-coded tab was mandated on baked goods, such as bread. Each color represented the day of the week it was baked. A list of each day and its assigned color was posted near the baked goods shelves. While the system is still used, the color-code chart is nowhere to be found. Can you publish this color-code list?

Answer: There is no federal or state requirement that manufacturers use a color code, or any other kind of code, to indicate the freshness of baked goods to the public.

The industry has used colored plastic tab closures to indicate production dates, but "the code was really only for their delivery men so that they could rotate the product when they visited the retail stores," said Allan Izen, acting program manager for the state Department of Health's Food and Drug Branch.

While some products, such as baby food, medicines and milk, require codes, that's not the case with baked goods.

Most dates people see on products -- such as pull dates or "use by" dates -- are an indication of freshness, but are not legally enforceable, Izen said. Supposedly, if you buy a product that has a "best if used by" date and you buy it before that date, the quality should be good.

"If it goes beyond that date, there may be some loss of quality, but it would not be a health risk," Izen said.

While there's nothing illegal about selling something beyond a noted date, Izen said the state will step in if that practice appears to be a "chronic problem."

For example, wholesalers will sometimes mark down a product as it approaches its freshness date and "certain stores buy these and keep them on the shelves beyond the date," he said. "If we find this is a chronic problem with a store, we will make recommendations and try to persuade the stores not to do this, but we have no authority to actually prohibit it."

Izen also explained that codes are generally either "open" or "closed." "Open" means that the code is known to consumers, such as "Best if used by Feb. 25."

"Other products just have strings of numbers and letters that only mean something to the manufacturers or sales reps," Izen said.


To a kind woman who called 911 and stayed with me after I was involved in a serious accident along Kalanianaole Highway in Waimanalo on Friday morning, March 26. The other car involved drove away. My air bag inflated, the doors locked, there was smoke everywhere and I was trapped inside my minivan. The Waimanalo firemen were terrific, arriving within minutes of the call, pulling me out of my car quickly and tending to my injuries until the ambulance arrived. The woman held my hand, saying calming, comforting words the whole while. I don't know who she was, but thank her with all of my heart. She was truly my guardian angel. Mahalo also to the amazing emergency staff at Queen's Hospital. My van is totaled and I have many weeks of healing ahead, but I count my blessings to be alive! -- Karyn Hermann


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