Date labeling of foods is a misunderstanding and educational communications are needed to improve consumer understanding, according to a new study from the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, published by Elsevier.
Does it mean “spoiled – throw it out” or “might not taste the same as it gets?” Food date labels (eg “USE before August 16”) can play an important role in helping consumers make informed decisions about food and ultimately prevent consumption and waste. dangerous foods. Researchers surveyed 2,607 adults in the United States to assess consumer understanding of the simplified two-date labeling system and explore the relative effectiveness of educational messages in improving understanding.
“Our study showed that an overwhelming majority of consumers say they use food date labels to make food decisions and say they know what the labels mean,” said Catherine Turvey, MPH, Department of Exercise Science. and nutrition, Milken Institute School of Public. Health, George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA. “Despite using date labels with confidence, many consumers misinterpreted the labels and continued to misunderstand even after reading educational messages explaining the meaning of the labels.
Less than half (46 percent) of study respondents knew that the “BEST if used by” label specifically indicates that food quality may deteriorate after the date stated on the label. Less than a quarter (24 percent) of study respondents knew that the “USE by” label means that food cannot be safely consumed after the date stated on the label.
Researchers explored whether framing messages with values like saving money or avoiding waste would impact the effectiveness of the messages in increasing consumer understanding. None of the seven value frameworks tested was significantly more effective at improving comprehension than another, but all messages significantly improved the general understanding of labels by the consumer.
After reading the educational messages, 37 percent of consumers still did not understand the precise meaning of the “BEST if used by” label and 48 percent did not understand the precise meaning of the “USE by” label.
“Survey responses suggest that date labels are so familiar that some consumers think they are boring, self-explanatory or common sense despite misunderstanding the labels,” Ms. Turvey said. “Unjustified reliance on and familiarity with date labels can make consumers less attentive to the educational messages that explain the food industry’s labeling system.”
Future communications campaigns will need to capture the attention of people who think they already know what date labels mean, find the information tedious, or settle for a rough understanding of the labels. Educating consumers about the meaning of labels has growing implications for food waste and food safety as the two-date labeling system is more widely adopted and receives support from nonprofits and government institutions.
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