Research Article| Volume 53, ISSUE 5, P389-400, May 2021

Download started.


Impact of Messaging Strategy on Consumer Understanding of Food Date Labels



      Explore consumer understanding of the food industry's 2-date labeling system and the relative effectiveness of messages in increasing understanding.


      Participant understanding of date labels assessed before and after random assignment to 1 of 7 messages explaining the meaning of the labels.


      US online survey through Amazon Mechanical Turk collected responses from July 29, 2019, to August 5, 2019.


      Adults aged 18 years or older who speak English (n = 2,607).


      Seven message variations.

      Variables Measured

      Behaviors, awareness, and understanding of date labeling, and effectiveness of messages and opportunities for improving them.


      Pearson's chi-square test of independence, Wald chi-square test of association, McNemar's test of marginal homogeneity, and logistic regression.


      The majority of respondents use date labels to make decisions and believe they know what the labels mean; however, only 64.0% and 44.8% knew the general meaning of the Best If Used By and Use By labels, respectively. Even fewer understood their specific meanings. Overall, education increased general understanding to 82.0% for Best If Used By and 82.4% for Use By (P < 0.001). The effectiveness of the educational message did not vary significantly by message variation.

      Conclusions and Implications

      Consumer education is needed to improve understanding of the 2-date labeling system, ultimately improving food safety and decreasing wasted food. This study highlights opportunities for effective educational communication.

      Key Words

      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access

      SNEB Member Login

      SNEB Members, full access to the journal is a member benefit. Login via the SNEB Website to access all journal content and features.


      Subscribe to Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • Buzby JC
        • Wells HF
        • Hyman J.
        The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States.
        US Department of Agriculture, 2014
        • Leib EB
        • Ferro J
        • Nielsen A
        • Nosek G
        • Qu J.
        The dating game.
        Natural Resources Defense Council, 2013 (Accessed April 2, 2021)
        • Newsome R
        • Balestrini CG
        • Baum MD
        • et al.
        Applications and perceptions of date labeling of food.
        Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 2014; 13: 745-769
        • Neff RA
        • Spiker M
        • Rice C
        • Schklair A
        • Greenberg S
        • Leib EB.
        Misunderstood food date labels and reported food discards: A survey of U.S. consumer attitudes and behaviors.
        Waste Manag. 2019; 86: 123-132
        • Wansink B
        • Wright A.
        “Best if Used By …” how freshness dating influences food acceptance.
        J Food Sci. 2006; 71: S354-S357
        • Tsiros M
        • Heilman CM.
        The effect of expiration dates and perceived risk on purchasing behavior in grocery store perishable categories.
        J Mark. 2005; 69: 114-129
        • Wilson NLW
        • Rickard BJ
        • Saputo R
        • Ho ST.
        Food waste: the role of date labels, package size, and product category.
        Food Qual Prefer. 2017; 55: 35-44
        • Wilson NLW
        • Miao R
        • Weis C.
        Seeing is not believing: perceptions of date labels over food and attributes.
        J Food Prod Mark. 2018; 24: 611-631
        • Wilson NLW
        • Miao R
        • Weis CS.
        Whenin Doubt, Throw It Out! The complicated decision to consume (or waste) food by date labels.
        Choices. 2019; 34: 1-7
        • Davenport ML
        • Qi D
        • Roe BE.
        Food-related routines, product characteristics, and household food waste in the United States: a refrigerator-based pilot study.
        Resour Conserv Recycl. 2019; 150104440
        • Gruber V
        • Holweg C
        • Teller C.
        What a waste! Exploring the human reality of food waste from the store manager's perspective.
        J Public Policy Market. 2016; 35: 3-25
        • Ellison B
        • Lusk JL.
        Examining household food waste decisions: a vignette approach.
        Appl Econ Perspect Policy. 2018; 40: 613-631
        • ReFED
        A road map to reduce U.S. Food waste by 20 percent.
        2016 (Accessed April 2, 2021)
      1. Grocery Manufacturers Association. Grocery industry launches new initiative to reduce consumer confusion on product date labels. Accessed October 25, 2020.

      2. Consumer Brands Association. 87% of products are now using two date labels, creating needed clarity. Accessed October 25, 2020.

      3. US Department of Agriculture. Refrigeration and food safety. Accessed April 2, 2021.

      4. The Consumer Goods Forum. Companies commit to simplify food date labels worldwide by 2020, reducing food waste. Accessed October 25, 2020.

      5. US Food and Drug Administration. US Food and Drug Administration letter to food industry. Accessed October 25, 2020.

      6. US Department of Agriculture. Food product dating. Accessed April 2, 2021.

      7. US Environmental Protection Agency. Winning on reducing food waste federal interagency strategy. Accessed October 25, 2020.

      8. Library of Congress. H.R.3981 - Food Date Labeling Act of 2019. Accessed April 21, 2021.

        • Igartua JJ
        • Cheng L.
        Moderating effect of group cue while processing news on immigration: is the framing effect a heuristic process?.
        J Commun. 2009; 59: 726-749
        • Schemer C
        • Wirth W
        • Matthes J.
        Value resonance and value framing effects on voting intentions in direct-democratic campaigns.
        Am Behav Sci. 2012; 56: 334-352
        • Shen F
        • Edwards HH.
        Economic individualism, humanitarianism, and welfare reform: a value-based account of framing effects.
        J Commun. 2005; 55: 795-809
        • Hinyard LJ
        • Kreuter MW.
        Using narrative communication as a tool for health behavior change: a conceptual, theoretical, and empirical overview.
        Health Educ Behav. 2007; 34: 777-792
        • Neff RA
        • Spiker ML
        • Truant PL.
        Wasted food: U.S. consumers’ reported awareness, attitudes, and behaviors.
        PLoS One. 2015; 10e0127881
        • Dillard JP
        • Ye S.
        The perceived effectiveness of persuasive messages: questions of structure, referent, and bias.
        J Health Commun. 2008; 13: 149-168
        • Difallah D
        • Filatova E
        • Ipeirotis P.
        Demographics and dynamics of Mechanical Turk workers.
        in: WSDM ’18: Proceedings of the Eleventh ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining. Association for Computing Machinery, 2018: 135-143
        • Paolacci G
        • Chandler J
        • Ipeirotis PG.
        Running experiments on Amazon Mechanical Turk.
        Judgm Decis Mak. 2010; 5: 411-419
        • Charmaz K
        Constructing Grounded Theory. A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis.
        Sage Publications, London, UK2006
        • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
        A National Strategy to Reduce Food Waste at the Consumer Level.
        The National Academies Press, 2020
      9. Pennsylvania Code & Bulletin. 7 Pa. Code chapter 59A. Milk sanitation. Accessed October 25, 2020.

        • Roe BE
        • Qi D
        • Bender KE
        • Hilty J.
        Industry versus government regulation of food date labels: observed adherence to industry-endorsed phrases.
        Sustainability. 2019; 11: 7183