Americans feel guilty about food waste, but still throw away food

A new study found that 53 percent of respondents recognize that food waste is a problem. Many said they throw away food because of safety concerns that may be unfounded.

Michael Zamora/The Des Moines Register via AP
In this Tuesday, March 15, 2016 photo, store operations manager Clint Draheim holds open the lid as Monty Rouzer dumps out a bucket of food scraps from the kitchen into the organic waste bins at the Hy-Vee in Urbandale, Iowa. The brown-spotted bananas, misshapen green peppers, and wilted lettuce you passed over at your local Hy-Vee grocery store may well be part of the dark, rich compost you buy at the store's garden center this spring. The Des Moines Register reports that turning food waste into usable goods is becoming more the rule than the exception at a growing number of Iowa grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals and public institutions.

Despite increasing evidence of the social and environmental consequences of food waste, a new study in PLOS One found that Americans throw away nearly 37 billion kilograms (80 billion pounds) of food annually, and almost half of all Americans do not realize that food waste is a problem in the United States.

The Ohio State Researchers behind the study administered a national survey to 500 people in the U.S to examine Americans’ awareness and attitudes toward food waste. The study is the second peer-reviewed large-scale consumer survey about food waste and is the first in the U.S. to examine American attitudes on food waste.

The study found that 53 percent of respondents express recognition that food waste is a problem. Co-author Brian Roe, the McCormick Professor of Agricultural Marketing and Policy at The Ohio State University, told Science Daily, “It’s still amazingly low. 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."

Although 47 percent of respondents did not consider food waste a problem, 77 percent of people surveyed said they feel guilty about throwing away food and 42 percent agreed that throwing away food wastes money. The researchers also found that 87 percent of people thought they wasted less food than others.

The most commonly cited reason for throwing away food was related to food safety. Sixty-eight percent of respondents believed that throwing away food after the package date has passed reduces the chance of food-borne illness and 59 percent believed some food waste is required to ensure meals are fresh and flavorful.

Because a majority of people surveyed believed they needed to throw away food after the sell-by or use-by date, the researchers offered insight into how to combat the misconception that food is unsafe after these dates.  They wrote, “Food label guides or initiatives like the removal of sell-by dates could help reduce food label confusion and alleviate the perceived tradeoff between food waste and food-borne illness, which may be able to reduce some food waste efficiently.”  

According to the study’s press release, the study’s co-authors are using their results to develop a smartphone app to measure household food waste more accurately. They are partnering with the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University to do so.  

This story originally appeared on Food Tank.

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