America needs to get a handle on its food waste

Amanda Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

Most Americans overestimate the amount of food that they will eat, resulting in them over-buying and under-eating their groceries, and alongside unclear package labeling this results in people throwing out their unused food, contributing to the overall food waste of the country.

This was found in a study to be published in the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling’s November 2019 edition, written by professors of Ohio State University.

The study, titled, “Food-related routines, product characteristics, and household food waste in the United States: A refrigerator-based pilot study,” looked at the amount of food people bought, their estimates for how much of it they will eat and then their reasons for not eating it.

To do this, the authors surveyed 307 people, following up with 169 of them a week later, and asked them about the contents of their fridges on the basis of four categories: meats, fruit, vegetables and dairy

After asking how much of each category they had in their refrigerators, the participants were then asked how much of each type of food they expected to consume.

According to an article from the Ohio State University’s news site, the Ohio State News, “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.”

As these numbers show, the average person is eating a lot less of the food they buy than expected, which in and of itself is a problem, but another issue was found by the researchers when they looked at what happened to the uneaten food.

They found that many participants were throwing out food that was still good to eat because the packages’ labeling was ambiguous.

“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,” the study’s senior author Brian Roe was quoted as saying in the Ohio State News article.

Because people are unsure of what the “best buy” and “sell by” dates exactly mean, they often decide to err on the side of caution and throw the food out instead of taking the chance of eating food that’s no longer safe to eat.

The study’s findings are just a part of the much larger issue of America’s food waste, which is estimated at 30-40 percent of the food supply, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

“Food waste, which is the single largest component going into municipal landfills, quickly generates methane, helping to make landfills the third largest source of methane in the United States,” the department’s website states. Methane contributes to global warming and climate change.

However, there are some ways to try to reduce our food waste and Megan Davenport of the study said that the study can help find these solutions.

“Our results suggest that strategies to reduce food waste in the U.S. should include limiting and standardizing the number of phrases used on date labels, and education campaigns to help consumers better understand the physical signs of food safety and quality,” Davenport said in the OSN article.

Additionally, there is currently a policy being reviewed by Congress that would specify what terms should be used on labels to indicate when food has gone bad.

Hopefully, these ideas will be able to curb the country’s amount of food waste at some point in the future.