Consumer knowledge and use of open dates: results of a web-based survey
Consumers are relying increasingly on ready-to-eat (RTE) foods because they are convenient, quick, and easy. Open dates let consumers know by which date to purchase or use RTE foods for best quality. To further characterize consumer knowledge and use of open dates for specific refrigerated RTE foods (smoked seafood, cooked crustaceans, bagged salads, prewashed cut produce, soft cheeses, frankfurters, deli meats, fermented sausages, and deli salads), we conducted a nationally representative web-enabled survey (n = 2,060). Before purchasing RTE foods, 48 to 68% of respondents check open dates all or most of the time. Before preparing RTE foods, 43 to 64% of respondents check open dates all or most of the time. Nearly two-thirds of respondents reported that their senses were the most important factors in deciding whether to eat a refrigerated food, which is an unsafe practice. About one-third of respondents reported that an open date is the most important factor in deciding whether to eat a refrigerated food. Many respondents, however, do not understand the meanings of the different types of dates. Only 18% correctly defined the use-by date. The findings suggest consumers could benefit from education regarding open dates and recommended storage times for RTE foods.