January 16, 2024 | Food Waste, Policies + Regulations

Consumer Perceptions Of Date Labels

Top: Image by Doug Pinkerton

Consumer Food Insights (CFI) is a monthly survey of more than 1,200 Americans from across the country. Since January 2022, the Center for Food Demand Analysis and Sustainability (CFDAS) at Purdue University has used this survey to track trends and changes in consumer food demand and food sustainability behaviors, including consumers’ understanding of date labels on packaged food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service defines “Best if Used by” and “Use-By” date labels as references to peak food quality rather than references to the date after which the food is no longer safe to eat. The Center’s November 2023 edition of the survey explored consumer perceptions of food date labels and risk of foodborne illnesses. It found that most consumers associate “Best if Used By” and “Use-By” food date labels with food safety rather than food quality: “52% of respondents believe ‘Best if Used By’ date labels refer to food safety while 39% believe they refer to food quality. Similarly, 59% of consumers believe ‘Use-By’ date labels refer to food safety and 34% believe they refer to quality.” Part of the challenge with date labeling is the lack of consistency among states as there is no universal requirement/standard for food product dating in the U.S., except for infant formula. “This helps explain the variation in the distribution of responses when we ask consumers to define what these labels mean,” notes the Center.

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