You may not know it, but there’s a good chance you’ve thrown perfectly fresh food into the garbage. A recent study by Ohio State University has found misunderstood food labels drive today’s food waste issues.
Published in the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling, the research focused on items typically found in American refrigerators, including fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy.
Survey participants said they hoped to eat 97% of the meat they purchased but only finished half. They expected to use 94% of their veggies, but only ate about 44%. They finished about 40% of their fruit and only 42% of the dairy they had in the fridge.
Concerns about food safety fuel much of the waste, with people considering odor, appearance, and ambiguous date labels on the packaging. The study’s senior author, Brian Roe, says the labels ‘use by’ and ‘best by’ are typically understood as safety indicators, when in fact, they are generally indicators of quality.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of the food produced around the world for human consumption is wasted every year, amounting to a total of 1.3 billion tonnes. An estimated 43% of the food waste stems from individuals at home, rather than from restaurants, supermarkets, or farms.
A proposal currently before US Congress aims to clarify date labeling for consumers and help them understand the physical signs of food safety and quality.
Under the plan, the study’s researchers say the terms ‘best by’ would translate to ‘follow your nose’, and ‘use by’ would mean ‘throw it out’.