A recent study conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University suggests that up to 50% of consumers discard perfectly good milk solely based on the date label on the carton.

The study utilised eye-tracking technology and found that participants were inclined to throw away milk without even reading the label phrasing in front of the date.

The findings emphasise the significance of the date label and call for the establishment of a universal two-phrase system to reduce food waste.

Date label trumps label phrasing in influencing consumer Behaviour

According to the study, participants’ intent to discard milk was primarily determined by the date printed on the container, irrespective of the phrasing used on the label.

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The researchers observed that changing the printed date significantly impacted participants’ decision to throw away the milk. The study’s senior author, Brian Roe, explained that participants focused primarily on the date, with the label phrasing playing a secondary role.

Policymakers and industry leaders aim to establish a two-phrase system that distinguishes between quality concerns and safety concerns, but specific phrases have yet to be determined.

Consumer awareness and date extension key to reducing food waste

Roe stressed the importance of consumer education campaigns and the need for phrases that people can easily comprehend. However, the study revealed that very few consumers pay attention to the label phrasing, directing their focus solely on the date.

The date on a food product signifies the point at which the quality begins to degrade. By extending the date, companies can potentially reduce food waste as consumers would be more willing to utilise the product for a few additional days.

The study’s findings highlight the need to push date horizons back as part of a broader conversation to minimise food waste.

Milk as a representative example of consumer food waste

Milk was chosen as the subject of the study due to its widespread consumption and its significant contribution to food waste. In the United States, consumer waste accounts for more than 48% of surplus food, with milk alone representing approximately 12% of all food wasted by consumers.

The study involved 68 participants who viewed images of milk containers with varying dates and label phrasing. Eye-tracking technology revealed that participants focused more on the date than the phrase and paid little attention to the label phrasing.

Even the quality of the milk did not substantially impact participants’ attention to the label, further underscoring the dominance of the date as the determining factor in consumer behaviour.