Study: Consumers are aware of food waste, but don't care enough to stop it

- Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A new study published by the scientific journal Plos One—co-authored by PhD student Danyi Qi and Professor Brian Roe of Ohio State University—found that food waste has yet to become a pressing issue for most consumers.

In July 2015, 500 people representative of the U.S. population were surveyed. Of the respondents, 58% said they knew that food waste was bad for the environment and 77% of respondents felt guilty about it. Yet, 53% of respondents said they're not willing to change their behavior and the same percentage thought it would be hard for their household to do so.

Despite ongoing coverage of scientific literature showing that date labels aren't linked to food safety, 70% of respondents said they thought throwing away food after its expiration date helped reduce the potential of food-borne illness. The concept that some food needs to be wasted in order to ensure meal freshness and quality was supported by 59% of respondents.

The fact that an estimated 40% of food is wasted in the U.S. every year and the country has a goal of reducing food waste 50% by 2030 are well-publicized at this point. The issue has brought celebrity chefs to Capitol Hill and a bill proposed by Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine that would standardize date labels has also received lots of coverage. Yet outside of the waste and food industries this issue still doesn't seem to be resonating with consumers.

The study found that 24% of respondents think they're too busy to worry about it. One would think that financial factors might get people's attention, but only 42% of respondents recognized that wasted food equals wasted money. In an even more telling statistic, only 14% of respondents thought that they wasted more food than households of a similar size.

In conclusion, the study's authors say that education around food date labeling would be a useful step forward. Organizations such as Harvard's Food Law and Policy Clinic have been very active on label reform and initiatives such as the Natural Resources Defense Council's "Save the Food" campaign are trying to give the issue national attention.

By Cole Rosengren | July 25, 2016