We’re Wasting More Than Half of the Food In Our Refrigerators, Says New Study

Highwaystarz-Photography/iStock via Getty Images
Highwaystarz-Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Coming home after a long weekend away to a rancid carton of milk or a moldy bunch of berries happens to the best of us. A new study hints at the reason so much of our food gets tossed.

In the study, published online in the journal Resources, Conservation, and Recycling, researchers from The Ohio State University and Louisiana State University analyzed data from 307 participants who took the State of the American Refrigerator survey. Ohio State News reports that they found a sizable disconnect between participants’ expectations of how much food they’d end up eating and how much they actually ate. Survey participants projected a finish rate of 97 percent for meat, 94 percent for vegetables, 84 percent for dairy, and 71 percent for fruit. A week later, they reported the honest outcome: People ate about half the meat, 44 percent of the vegetables, 42 percent of the dairy, and 40 percent of the fruit—they trashed everything else.

According to the survey, people often tossed food because of the dates on the labels, or because they thought it looked or smelled suspicious. But many Americans don’t understand what those ambiguous expiration dates mean in the first place, and therefore opt for a “better safe than sorry” plan of action when the food itself is probably still safe.

Those “expiration” disclaimers could improve soon, though. Congress is currently looking over a proposal to standardize the language so consumers can more clearly interpret it. If Congress passes the proposal, “Use by [date]” will be a nationwide mandate to throw out products after that date, while “Best if used by [date]” will signify that it’s safe to eat or drink as long as you think it seems OK.

Follow-up questions on the survey showed trends in other behaviors that contribute to the likelihood of food waste. People who cleaned out their refrigerators frequently and younger participants wasted food more often, while those who frequently check nutrition labels wasted less. Researchers suggested that people who check nutrition labels are more conscientious about what they buy and less likely to waste it with abandon. It’s possible that they’ve also better educated themselves on which foods are safe to eat after the sell-by dates.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, around one-third of the world’s food is lost or wasted—that’s about 1.3 billion tons of food per year.

Feeling a little guilty about your own food waste? Here are eight easy ways to cut back.

[h/t Ohio State News]

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The Clever Reason Oranges Are Sold in Red Mesh Bags

Gingagi/iStock via Getty Images
Gingagi/iStock via Getty Images

If a detail in a food's packaging doesn't seem to serve a practical purpose, it's likely a marketing tactic. One example is the classic mesh bag of oranges seen in supermarket produce sections. When oranges aren't sold loose on the shelf, they almost always come in these red, mesh bags. The packaging may seem plain, but according to Reader's Digest, it's specially designed to make shoppers want to buy the product.

The color orange "pops" when paired with the color red more so than it does with yellow, green, or blue. That means when you see a bunch of oranges behind a red net pattern, your brain assumes they're more "orange" (and therefore fresher and higher quality) than it would if you saw them on their own. That's the same reason red is chosen when making bags for fruits like grapefruits or tangerines, which are also orange in color.

For lemon packaging, green is more commonly chosen to make the yellow rind stand out. If lemons were sold in the same red bags as other citrus, the red and yellow hues together would actually make the fruits appear orange. Lemons can also come in yellow mesh bags, and the bags for limes are usually green to match their color.

Next time you visit the supermarket, see if you can spot the many ways the store is set up to influence your buying decisions. The items at eye-level will likely be more expensive than those on the shelves above and below them, and the products near the register will likely be cheaper and more appealing as impulse buys. Check out more sneaky tricks used by grocery stores here.

[h/t Reader's Digest]