For many consumers, date labels are still a head scratcher.
By Matthew Kadey, MS, RD
Aug 9, 2021
Graphic of woman reading a best if used by label
That label you’re looking at: Does it mean “spoiled—toss it out” or “not optimal, but still safe to eat”? Food date labels can play an important role in helping consumers make informed decisions about food and can ultimately prevent unnecessary waste and protect against unsafe consumption. But the streamlined “Use By” and “Best If Used By” label system is still confusing people, signaling a need for better consumer educational communication, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
Less than half (46%) of the 2,607 study respondents knew what the “Best If Used By” label specifically indicated, and fewer than one-quarter (24%) of participants understood the “Use By” label.
Here’s what the labels mean: “Best If Used By” dates are on products with longer shelf lives and refer to the amount of time that the food will be in optimal condition. A product that has passed this date may still be safe to eat, but the quality might not be as good. “Use By” dates are on perishable products with shorter shelf lives, and the date refers to when a product is expected to spoil and be unsafe to eat.
Giving consumers a brief explainer of what each label meant increased the level of understanding. Post-explanation, 82% could correctly articulate what a “Best If Used By” label meant, and 82.4% properly explained what “Use By” signified.