When to throw food away? ‘Sell by,’ ‘Use by’ tags confusing

Food waste is the largest source of municipal solid waste in the U.S. and the most destructive type of household waste in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study by Ohio State University researchers.

The study found that American consumers throw away nearly 80 billion pounds of food a year, however, only half are aware that food waste is a major problem.

While most consumers feel guilty when discarding excess food, many find it difficult to prevent household food waste.

In a study administered to 500 people representing the U.S. population, results found that 53 percent of respondents said they were aware that food waste is a problem.

Brian Roe, the McCormick Professor of Agricultural Marketing and Policy at OSU, found that there has been an increase in awareness in regards to household food waste but the numbers aren’t high enough.

“If we can increase awareness of the problem, consumers are more likely to increase purposeful action to reduce food waste. You don’t change your behavior if you don’t realize there’s a problem in the first place,” said Roe.

Angela Williams of Beavercreek said the knows food waste is a “very big problem.” Williams said she believes restaurants are more at fault than households when it comes to wasting food.

Roe’s study identified general patterns that have an effect on people’s attitudes regarding food waste in the household. There are three things people consider when it comes to food waste: perceived benefits, the ease or difficulty of changing their behaviors when it comes to discarding food, and the feeling of guilt when throwing food away.

On every grocery product purchased there is a “Sell by” and “Use by” date. However, it is only in rare circumstances that the date is about food safety.

Local shoppers have their own ideas of how they can do their part to reduce food waste. Dana Floyd of Beavercreek said her husband and her plan out their meals to before going to the grocery store.

Cassandra Dull of Englewood said “making a list when you go to the grocery store and just buying what you need” helps her reduce waste.

“This can prevent shoppers from buying a bunch of things that they will eventually throw away,” she said.

Researcher Danyi Qi said there are ways to chip away at the perceived benefits of wasting food.

“Our study shows that many people feel they derive some type of benefit by throwing food away, but many of those benefits are not real,” she said.

Researchers said removing “Sell by” and “Use by” dates from packaged food could significantly reduce the amount of good food that is trashed.

The Ohio State study said better data on measuring household waste could lead to improvements.

Roe, Qi, and other members of Roe’s research group are in the process of developing a smart phone app to combat the issue and assist with measuring household food waste.

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