Much fridge food ‘goes there to die’

August 29, 2019

Food-waste study reveals trends behind discarded items

Americans throw out a lot more food than they expect they will, food waste that is likely driven in part by ambiguous date labels on packages, a new study has found.

“People eat a lot less of their refrigerated food than they expect to, and they’re likely throwing out perfectly good food because they misunderstand labels,” said Brian Roe, the study’s senior author, a professor agricultural, environmental and development economics, and affiliated faculty of the Sustainability Institute.

This is the first study to offer a data-driven glimpse into the refrigerators of American homes, and provides an important framework for efforts to decrease food waste, Roe said. 

It was published online this month and will appear in the November print issue of the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling.

Survey participants expected to eat 97 percent of the meat in their refrigerators but really finished only about half. They thought they’d eat 94 percent of their vegetables, but consumed just 44 percent. They projected they’d eat about 71 percent of the fruit and 84 percent of the dairy, but finished off just 40 percent and 42 percent, respectively.

Top drivers of discarding food included concerns about food safety – odor, appearance and dates on the labels.

“No one knows what ‘use by’ and ‘best by’ labels mean and people think they are a safety indicator when they are generally a quality indicator,” Roe said, adding that there’s a proposal currently before Congress to prescribe date labeling rules in an effort to provide some clarity.

Under the proposal, “Best if used by” would, as Roe puts it, translate to “Follow your nose,” and “Use by” would translate to “Toss it.”

To read other findings from the study on food-waste.