Label Misconception Leads to Food Waste

By: Michelle Warner

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Who would have thought that confusing labeling would have a noticeable contribution to food waste? That’s what the new survey by Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, National Consumers League and the Johns Hopkins Center discovered.

Every year 40% of the food supply in the United States is wasted [1]. Of that food waste, 31% is at the consumer and retail level [2]. At the Food Waste Summit in Washington D.C. this past month, they discussed how date labeling confuses consumers and contributes to food waste. The survey also found out that “84% of consumers at least occasionally discard food close to or past the date on the label,” and 37% of consumers always or usually discard food close to or paste the date on the label.” [3] Consumers think that the date label indicates safety of the product. Although that may be true for some foods, “For most foods, the date label is a manufacturer’s best guess at how long the product will be at its peak quality.” [3]

The type of date label (best by, best if used by, freshest by, expires on, use by, and sell by) has a factor on consumer’s perception on the quality of the product. A “best if used by” label was perceived as an indicator of food quality by the consumer while “expires on” was perceived as an indicator of food safety by consumers.” [3]

The USDA defines date labels as such: A “ “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires. A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product. Do not buy or use baby formula after its “use-by” date.” [4]

Food organizations such as Save The Food are trying to make consumers aware and teach consumers ways to reduce food waste by offering tips and solutions those consumers. Save The Food says that “90 percent of us occasionally throw away food too soon, and over half of us do it regularly.” [5] Save The Food encourages consumers to freeze food to keep it fresh and to use their eyes and nose when evaluating the quality of food to determine to throw it out or not.

1.     Hall KD, Guo J, Dore M, Chow CC. The progressive increase of food waste in America and its environmental impact. PloS one. 2009 Nov 25;4(11):e7940.

2.     http://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm

3.     http://www.nclnet.org/date_labeling_survey

4.     http://food.unl.edu/14-ways-consumers-can-reduce-food-waste

5.     http://www.savethefood.com/tips/deciphering-dates-on-products

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One thought on “Label Misconception Leads to Food Waste

  1. Pingback: ReThinking Waste from a Consumer Prospective | The Culinologist

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