How expiry labels accelerate food waste

You needed some cream for a Christmas dessert and put the carton back in the fridge only to forget it for a week. Now you realise you could use it for today’s breakfast, but it is expired. Do you throw it away?

Many of us bin expired food even when there is a chance that it may still be good. Perfectly good food is often wasted because we would rather trust a printed date than our own sense of taste and smell. Could expiry dates do more harm than good?

We wanted to know how consumers deal with printed expiry labels and how these labels influenced their food shopping behaviour. For instance, do people pay attention to labels for frozen foods? Or dried foods? Are people as cautious with expiry labels at home as they are in the supermarket? These are questions we addressed in our study.


University of Reading, supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.


To understand consumers’ attitudes towards expiry labels and explore consumer behaviour surrounding expiry dates with foods in supermarkets compared to at home. 

Our approach:

A qualitative study took place in the Citizen Participation Forum with 56 participants across 17 different countries in Europe. The participants were recruited through a professional panel. Participants completed a range of activities, including a questionnaire and took part in multiple interactive discussions. 

Findings in a nutshell:

The large majority of participants find expiry dates important and pay attention to them when buying food. They pay particular attention to the expiry dates of dairy products, meat products, seafood, eggs and bread. 

Mostly, participants say they are wary of eating expired food for their health. So, out of caution they dispose of food, even if they believe that the food item likely is not yet spoilt. Furthermore, participants will purchase the item with the furthest expiry date, even if they are planning to use it right away. All in all, participants believe that expiry labels are there for their safety, while also admitting that they find expiry dates exaggerated, and that these labels therefore contribute to increased food waste. 

Expiry labels can help consumers avoid unnecessary food waste, for example by indicating how they can use their senses to judge the safety of their food in addition to indicated dates.

Find out more:

Contact us to find out more about the results, or how we can tailor consumer insights to your product or company. 

We believe that understanding consumers is key to making the food system more sustainable. Successful innovation and impactful communication require a solid foundation of consumer insight. 

We are the insights partner of choice for food companies and non-profits  that aim to have a positive impact on society and our planet. Together we empower consumers to make food choices that are good for them as well as for the planet.

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