Skip to main content

Food labelling confusion a factor in food waste

Misinterpretation of food labels is a major contributor to food waste. In the UK, an estimated 30% of household food waste may be attributable to this consumer confusion. The 'best before' and 'use by' dates are statutory requirements in food packaging for products sold in the UK and in many other countries.  But are they properly interpreted? 

A new study in the US published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour shows that many consumers misinterpret food date labels, yet use them with confidence. 

Consumer education is needed, the authors argue, to increase understanding of food date labels.  Does it mean “spoiled - throw it out,” or “might not taste as good as it could anymore?”

Food date labels (e.g. “USE By August 16”) can play an important role in helping consumers make informed decisions about food, and ultimately prevent unsafe consumption and waste of food. Perhaps one problem is that this covers too wide a remit for the labelling.  For example, food waste might conflict with a more judicious following of the labels.  What does 'best' mean in this context. How quickly does food deteriorate after the 'best' date?  Does our nose provide a better judge than a label? Who has not used that test?

Researchers surveyed 2,607 adults in the United States to assess consumer understanding of the streamlined 2-date labelling system and explore the relative effectiveness of educational messages in increasing understanding.

“Our study showed that an overwhelming majority of consumers say that they use food date labels to make decisions about food and say they know what the labels mean,” says Catherine Turvey, of the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Milken Institute School of Public Health, in Washington DC. 

“Despite confidently using date labels, many consumers misinterpreted the labels and continued to misunderstand even after reading educational messaging that explained the labels’ meaning.”

Less than half (46 per cent) of study respondents knew that the “BEST If Used By” label specifically indicates that food quality may deteriorate after the date on the label. Less than one-quarter (24 per cent) of study respondents knew that the “USE By” label means that food is not safe to eat after the date on the label.

Researchers explored if framing the messages with values like saving money or avoiding waste, would impact the effectiveness of messages at increasing consumer understanding.  Whilst none of the seven value frames tested was significantly more effective at increasing understanding than another, but all messages significantly increased consumer’s general understanding of the labels.

After viewing educational messages, 37 per cent of consumers still did not understand the specific meaning of the “BEST If Used By” label and 48 per cent did not understand the specific meaning of the “USE By” label.

The research suggests that date labels are so familiar that some consumers believe they are boring, self-explanatory, or common sense despite misunderstanding the labels.  “Unwarranted confidence and the familiarity of date labels may make consumers less attentive to educational messaging that explains the food industry’s labelling system.”

 


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ian Duncan-Smith says he wants to make those on benefits 'better people'!

By any account, the government's austerity strategy is utilitarian. It justifies its approach by the presumed potential ends. It's objective is to cut the deficit, but it has also adopted another objective which is specifically targeted. It seeks to drive people off benefits and 'back to work'.  The two together are toxic to the poorest in society. Those least able to cope are the most affected by the cuts in benefits and the loss of services. It is the coupling of these two strategic aims that make their policies ethically questionable. For, by combining the two, slashing the value of benefits to make budget savings while also changing the benefits system, the highest burden falls on a specific group, those dependent on benefits. For the greater good of the majority, a minority group, those on benefits, are being sacrificed; sacrificed on the altar of austerity. And they are being sacrificed in part so that others may be spared. Utilitarian ethics considers the ba

Mr Duncan-Smith offers a disingenuous and divisive comparison

Some time ago, actually it was a long time ago when I was in my early teens, someone close to me bought a table. It was an early flat pack variety. It came with a top and four legs. He followed the instructions to the letter screwing the legs into the top. But when he had completed it the table wobbled. One leg he explained was shorter than the other three; so he sawed a bit from each of the other legs. The table wobbled. One leg, he explained, was longer than the other three. So, he sawed a bit off. The table wobbled. He went on cutting the legs, but the table continued to wobble. Cut, cut, cut! By this time he had convinced himself there was no alternative to it.  He ended up with a very low table indeed, supported by four very stumpy legs and a bit of cardboard placed under one of them to stop it wobbling on the uneven floor.  Mr Duncan-Smith argues that we need a 1% cap on benefits to be 'fair to average earners'. Average  earners have seen their incomes rise by less tha

His way or none? Why I can't vote for Jeremy

There is an assumption that all would be well with the Labour Party if people hadn't expressed their genuine concern with what they consider the inadequacies of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. If only, it is said, the Parliamentary Labour Party and his Shadow Cabinet had supported him, instead of undermining him, all would have been fine. If they had been quiet and towed the line, then the party would not have been in the mess it is in. So, should they have stayed silent, or speak of their concerns? There comes a point when the cost of staying silent outweighs the cost of speaking out. This is a judgment. Many call it a coup by the PLP. They paint a picture of a right-wing PLP out of touch with the membership.  This is the narrative of the Corbyn camp. But Jeremy Corbyn, over the decades he has been in politics, showed the way.  It was Jeremy Corbyn who opposed almost all Labour leaders and rarely held back from speaking out, or voting time and again against the party line. As