Date Marking and Restaurant Practices
Key Takeaways from Our Research
We found that most restaurants labeled their refrigerated and ready-to-eat foods with dates indicating when the food is no longer safe to eat. However, almost 1 in 4 restaurants did not.
Our research suggests that food safety programs and the food industry can improve food safety by
- Encouraging restaurants to use strong date-marking policies and practices. Restaurants with such policies were five times more likely to date mark.
- Verifying and observing date marking. Managers reported date marking more often than we saw date marking on foods.
- Focusing date-marking interventions on independent restaurants. Chain restaurants date marked more often than independent restaurants did.
Date marking plays an important role in maintaining the safety of refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods.
Date marking helps indicate when foods are no longer safe to eat. This helps prevent foodborne disease outbreaks. This practice is recommended in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Code.
Foodborne pathogens, like Listeria monocytogenes, can grow at refrigeration temperatures, particularly in certain ready-to-eat foods, such as deli meat and salads. FDA calls these foods time/temperature control for safety (TCS) foods. If these types of foods will be refrigerated for more than 24 hours, the FDA Food Code recommends
- They should NOT be kept for more than 7 days, and
- They should be marked with a date indicating when the food should be eaten, sold, or thrown away.
We learned more about how restaurants date mark in their kitchens.
The Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net) staff interviewed restaurant managers and observed food preparation and storage practices in kitchen areas. We found that
- Most restaurants practiced date marking, but almost 1 in 4 restaurants did not date mark foods that should have been date marked.
- Restaurants with a policy to mark dates on foods did so five times more often than those without a date-marking policy.
- Chain restaurants date marked more often than independent restaurants did.
- Managers reported date marking more often than we saw date marking on foods.
- Restaurants used a variety of date-marking systems. For example, some restaurants marked date of preparation and others marked date to discard.
Want More Information?
Scientific articles this plain language summary is based on: Restaurant Date-Marking Practices Concerning Ready-to-Eat Food Requiring Time and Temperature Control for Safetyexternal icon
Data for this study (CDC Stacks)
Food Safety Culture Study (study information)
More EHS-Net publications by Study Topic
More Food Safety Study Findings in Plain Language
What Is EHS-Net?
This study was conducted by the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net). EHS-Net is a federally funded collaboration of federal, state, and local environmental health specialists and epidemiologists working to better understand the environmental causes of foodborne illness.