Fridge Study Reveals American Buying, Storing, and Consuming Trends During COVID-19

July 27, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio - It is no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has led Americans to eat at home more often. A group of researchers with the Ohio State Food Waste Collaborative recently surveyed 500 people from around the country to gain insight into how eating at home has translated to other changes in American kitchens and if intentions to consume the food in refrigerators have risen as a result.

“58% of respondents to our July 2020 survey say they are cooking more frequently at home compared to the same time last year,” said Brian Roe, the study’s senior author and leader of the Ohio State Food Waste Collaborative. “About half say that their cooking and food management levels have improved since the onset of COVID-19.”

This is seen as a promising trend for those, like members of the collaborative, on the front lines working to educate the public and promote the reduction and redirection of food waste. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about one-third of the world’s food is wasted instead of eaten. About 40 percent of that food waste is generated by homes, rather than restaurants, grocery stores or farms. 

The July 2020 Technical Report: The Post-COVID State of the American Refrigerator shows the improvement in food management most likely comes down to necessity and time.

More than 40% of the 500 survey participants reported having more time available to do things (including cooking) that interest them, even after considering all changes to work, family and social obligations.

Survey participants also reported a high rate of intention to eat the food in their refrigerators.

Roe and his team conducted a previous refrigerator-based study in 2018 that tracked what participants expected to eat versus what they actually consumed. They found that in general, people overestimated how much food they had hoped to eat by almost half, which ends up fueling a large part of the nation's food-waste problem.

The recent survey also shows that the increase of cooking at home has translated to home food habits.

“About a third of participants report fuller refrigerators and freezers versus about 10% reporting emptier refrigerators and freezers,” said co-author Kathryn Bender from Allegheny College. “This increase in cold storage was enabled in part by respondents adding appliances with more than a quarter adding a refrigerator.”

If cooking and eating at home has demonstrated the need for more storage, Roe’s body of research on food waste shows reducing food waste also calls for consumers to adapt strategies for reducing food waste at home.

“Prioritize using what you already have in the refrigerator to reduce food waste and save money on groceries,” said Roe. “There are a handful of online and mobile applications that can help you plan how to use the food you already have."

In fact, Roe and his team have also completed a study on the FoodImageTM Smartphone App. For this study, participants transmitted photographs of the food they selected from the grocery store and what ended up in the trash. They also uploaded information and measurements of the tossed food so the researchers could ascertain how much food was wasted and why.   

By better understanding food waste patterns and conducting in-home research studies, the researchers want to identify opportunities to design policy or public messaging that will work in driving down waste.

 For media interviews, please contact Kathryn Bender at kbender@allegheny.edu or (814) 332-3339.

Kathryn Bender of Allegheny College, Aishwarya Badiger and Dennis R. Heldman of Ohio State University’s Department of Food Science, Danyi Qi of Louisiana State University and Yiheng Shu of Ohio State University’s Department Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, also worked on the study.

 

 

 

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