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[Updated] South Korea's New Use-By Date Labeling Requirements for Foods: All You Need to Know

South Korea introduces the new food labeling requirements of "use-by date". ChemLinked concludes the key points of the requirements, including what the "use-by date" is, what the difference between “use-by date” and “sell-by date” is, methods to label “use-by date(소비기한)” on in Korean, and methods to label “use-by date” for imported foods.

South Korea launched an online platform to check the use-by date for each product category in January 2024 for enterprises’ references. 

Food waste is a significant global issue, with an estimated one-third of all food produced for human consumption being lost or wasted each year. For South Korea, a country with limited agricultural area, the food waste problem is of greater concern. Lots of foods are thrown even if they are still edible, resulting in greenhouse gas, economic cost to dealing the food wastes, as well as the waste of production cost and resources. 

To address the issue of food waste, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) introduced the “use-by date” labeling to provide consumers with clear information on safe food consumption. 

What is "use-by date"?

On August 17, 2021, MFDS introduced the new “use-by date” labeling method in the Food Labeling Act1, replacing the sell-by date. The provisions are enforced on September 18, 2021. A grace period is given for imported food till January 1, 2023, as stipulated in Imported Food Act (Act No. 18445)2.

“Use-by date" refers to the period when the food is still safe to eat if the food is stored following the instructions on the label. In South Korea, most processed foods and health functional foods are required to be labeled with the "use-by date”. 

What’s the difference between “use-by date” and “sell-by date”?

The sell-by date shows by when a product is allowed to be sold, which is merchant-oriented. The use-by date is more consumer-oriented, that indicates when food is safe for consumption under the storage conditions.

Generally, the “sell-by date” is set at 60-70% of the maximum period to maintain product quality and 80-90% for the “use-by date”. Therefore, “use-by date” is more eco-friendly and helps save more food waste. 


How to label “use-by date(소비기한)” on foods in Korean?

The labeling methods of “use-by date (소비기한)” is similar to that of the previous “sell-by date (유통기한)”. The below three ways can be adopted:

(1)    ○○년 ○○월 ○○일까지, 소비기한: ○○○○년 ○○월 ○○일 (YYMMDD/Use-by date: YYMMDD)

(2)   제조일로부터 ○○월까지 (제조일 별도 표시), 소비기한: 제조일로부터 ○○일 (○○months after the manufacture date/use-by date: ○○days after the manufacture)

(3)   When displaying the information on the label is difficult due to the packaging area, the relevant use-by date’s location on the package shall be specified. 

How to label “use-by date” for imported foods?

As explained by MFDS3, for imported foods originally labeled with “sell-by date” following the regulations of the exporting country, the enterprises shall use the term “소비기한 (use-by date)” on the Korean label instead of “sell-by date”.

Concerning imported foods with "Expiration date", "EXP", or "E", the enterprise can adopt “유통기한 (sell-by date)”. However, if the expiration date is settled following the requirements in CODEX, enterprises shall mark it as “소비기한 (use-by date)”.

For imported food with a “best before date” on the package, if the product is subject to a "use-by date” following the Korean standards, the date should be labeled as a "소비기한(use-by date)”. In South Korea, the “best before date” states when the durable life period of food ends. It indicates that the food can be consumed even after the expiration date if it is stored appropriately according to the characteristics of the food. The “best before date” is applied to jams, sugars, and berries in South Korea.

Guidelines for setting the use-by date

Additionally, the Korean Food Industry Association (KFIA) published a report on the use-by-date setting for each food type4 in early August, which can be referred to by business operators when determining use-by dates.

This report is an additional release (4th release) combining previously released data.

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