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48% of People Have No Idea What This Crucial Food Label Means, New Study Says

New research suggests most of us misinterpret food date labels.

How many times have you looked at a packaged food in search of an expiration date and instead, came across "Best If Used By," paused, then thought what does that really mean? As it turns out, you're not alone.

A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior suggests that nearly half of all consumers don't understand the specific meaning of the "Use By" label found on the back of food products. To come to this conclusion, researchers surveyed just over 2,600 adults in the U.S. to see just how well shoppers know what food date labels mean. (Related: Costco Foods You Should Always Avoid, According to Nutritionists)

After all, how we interpret these labels can either encourage or deter us from buying food at the supermarket. The question is, do we really understand what these labels are telling us, or do we just assume we know? According to this study, just because we think we know doesn't mean we're right.

"Our study showed that an overwhelming majority of consumers say that they use food date labels to make decisions about food and say they know what the labels mean," Catherine Turvey, MPH, from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University, said in a statement.

"Despite confidently using date labels, many consumers misinterpreted the labels and continued to misunderstand even after reading educational messaging that explained the labels' meaning."

The study revealed that only 46% of participants knew the "Best if Used By" label indicates that the quality of the food could decline after the specified date and only 24% understood that the "Use By" label means that the food is no longer safe to eat after that date. In the next step of the study, researchers provided participants with educational messages that (they thought) could help study subjects better understand the labels.

However, after they viewed the messages, 37% of consumers still didn't grasp an understanding of what "Best If Used By" meant and 48% didn't know what the "Use By" label indicated. 

Hopefully, this study will help prompt communication campaigns that will help consumers better understand what this 2-date labeling system means so that they a) avoid food waste and b) avoid consuming foods that have spoiled.

For more, be sure to check out 8 Sneaky Buzzwords on Food Labels That Are Major Red Flags.

Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the news editor of Read more about Cheyenne