Food waste tendencies: Behavioral response to cosmetic deterioration of food

Vaneesha Dusoruth, Hikaru Hanawa Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


American households discard a significant amount of food that represent a sizable portion of their food expenditures. This study adds to our understanding of product attributes associated with food waste, with a focus on cosmetic deterioration during home storage. Specifically, we profile a sample of U.S. individuals by patterns of common food-related behaviors and determine the effects of product attributes on food waste tendencies at the point of consumption by distinct behavioral profiles. An interactive survey at the Minnesota State Fair (N = 333) was used to obtain measurements on food-related behavior and sociodemographic factors. The survey included a conjoint task to elicit food discard tendencies to construct the food waste proxy. The study considered cosmetic deterioration, date labels, implied shelf life, package size, and prices paid, in fresh, packaged spinach and ground beef products. Factor analysis and latent class modeling categorized the sample into two classes, revealing distinct food-related behavioral patterns. Planners, who constituted a slight majority in our sample, were likely to have established pre-shopping and in-store behavior and food management and cooking skills. Extemporaneous Consumers had inferior food handling routines and were less knowledgeable and skilled in the kitchen. Regression analysis using a random-effects tobit model showed Extemporaneous Consumers were prone to waste a greater portion of the spinach product than Planners. Otherwise, both classes showed similar increases in likelihood to discard the products, as their appearance deteriorated. Their tendency to waste increased with shorter remaining shelf life for spinach but not for ground beef, and was not affected by the date label type. Results suggest an intervention that targets a general audience designed to enhance people s skills to discern edibility of food in home storage by manipulating sensory expectations from cosmetic deterioration could be impactful in efforts to curtail food waste.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0233287
JournalPloS one
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Public Library of Science. All rights reserved.


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Food Handling/standards
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Refuse Disposal/standards
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Waste Products/statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Journal Article


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