The Brewers Association technical committee recommends that it is in the best interest of craft brewers, distributors, importers, and consumers that all beer from small and independent craft brewers be identifiable by some form of a date or lot code (“code”). It is the responsibility of all brewers, big and small, to ensure that their products are clearly coded for traceability.
The code should act as a vehicle to trace a package in the marketplace back to a package date. The assigned lot number should cross reference the specific brewed batch(es) of beer that encompass the specific packaged beer, through internal brewery tracking.
As stated by the Bioterrorism Act, breweries are required to insure traceability of their beer. Brewers must keep internal records of the specific ingredients, including manufacture lot numbers that were used in individual batches.
Lot coding serves three main functions:
- The most critical function is for the unfortunate case of a quality or safety recall. While all brewers strive to avoid such cases, it is critical for all to be prepared for this occurrence.
- A valuable quality tool in the distribution chain, allowing wholesalers and retailers to rotate and utilize first-in first out methodology
- Allow a degree of transparency for consumers to understand the shelf life of a beer.
The methods of coding vary, and the specific method through which it is accomplished is up to the brewer. A brewer may choose to list the specific packaging date or to use an encrypted code, provided the code is legible. However for the sake of transparency, it is best practice that either the package date or a “best by” date is listed and easily readable by the consumer.
There are several methods for coding. Some examples are:
- Standard or Gregorian Date package date coding
- “Best by” dating
- Julian date coding
- Unique company specific date coding
There is a wide variety of techniques and equipment available to use for coding purposes. They can be as simple as hand written numbers or as sophisticated as automated laser etched coding systems. The specific technique a brewer uses will vary depending on the size of the brewery and available resources.