Expiry Dates, Consumer Behavior, and Food Waste:
How Would Italian Consumers React If There Were
No Longer “Best Before” Labels?
Department for Innovation in Biological, Agro-Food and Forest Systems (DIBAF), University of Tuscia,
Via S. Camillo De Lellis, SNC 01100 Viterbo, Italy; firstname.lastname@example.org
Received: 21 September 2019; Accepted: 28 November 2019; Published: 1 December 2019
Much research has been carried out on food losses and waste in the various stages of
the food supply chain, consolidating the “ﬁght” against food waste as one of the most important
challenges in industrialized countries. Numerous diﬀerent studies have focused on food waste at
the household level, identifying both the multiple causes linked to this behavior and the factors that
can drive towards the reduction of food waste. In this paper, a diﬀerent approach was used, trying
to analyze diﬀerent individuals’ reactions to a concrete action consisting of removing “best before”
labels from some food products, following the recent proposal by European Union to simplify date
marking. How could any action in this area be implemented in every single country? Bearing in
mind the general results of the cross-sectional oﬃcial survey Flash Eurobarometer n. 425, the purpose
of this study was to go deeper into the study of how consumers would behave if the expiry date were
no longer available on a pack of spaghetti. The heterogeneity observed in the possible alternative
reactions across European Union 28 countries, as well as by considering the importance played by
the local context in which individuals reside led us to focus on a single country, and speciﬁcally
on the Italian context, as an example of country in which citizens have a higher average level of
knowledge about expiration dates than the global EU28 citizens, but where, at the same time, there
is a more conservative behavior regarding using a product with no expiry date. The multinomial
regression model—estimated using the generalized maximum entropy estimator—enabled us to
identify diﬀerent proﬁles and groups of individuals with which—as a suggestion to policy makers—it
would be ﬁrst necessary to intervene in order to standardize the level of knowledge on this speciﬁc
topic. In this direction, territorial macro-areas proved to be strongly associated with the various
reactions; the probability of consuming or throwing away was found to signiﬁcantly diﬀer across all
the studied regional macro-areas, with a higher likelihood of throwing away the product with no
best-before date in southern regions.
food waste; consumer behavior; expiration label; Italy; entropy; multinomial logistic
In recent years, there has been increasing interest in household food waste (FW) from both
academics and policy makers. On one hand, literature on household FW has increased more than
twofold in the last ﬁve years [
], and research has focused mainly on identifying the factors associated
with the behavior of individuals towards FW. On the other hand, the importance of FW has been
highlighted at various territorial levels. At an international level, the FW issue has been included in the
concept of sustainable consumption and production, which is among the 17 Sustainable Development
Goals deﬁned by the United Nations (UN) in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to
Sustainability 2019,11, 6821; doi:10.3390/su11236821 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
Sustainability 2019,11, 6821 2 of 15
transform our world. Indeed, UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 includes states that its target
is to halve per capita FW at retail and consumer levels and reduce food loss throughout production
and food supply chains (FSCs), including post-harvest losses, by 2030 [
]. Moreover, the importance
of the FW issue has been acknowledged in Europe by including this issue in the EU action plan for
circular economy [
]. Indeed, interventions by member states, regions, cities, and businesses along
the FSC are essential for the prevention of FW and for dealing with the diﬀerent situations that may
arise across countries and regions, and awareness campaigns are required in order to change consumer
In the EU28, approximately 88 million tons of food are wasted annually, the associated costs of
which have been estimated at
143 billion [
]. As already mentioned, in developed countries, food
losses generally occur in the ﬁnal stages of the FSC, mainly due to the decisions made by producers
and ﬁnal consumers, while food loss in developing countries generally occurs in the earlier FSC stages
because of a lack of ﬁnancial, technical, and managerial resources. In the same study [
], it was
estimated that that two-thirds of the total cost of food loss and waste are caused by household FW,
which amounts approximately to €98 billion. As regards the Italian context, the estimated cost of FW
occurring in the ﬁnal FSC stage amounts to approximately
12 billion per year, according to the recent
estimates provided by the observatory Waste Watcher (Last Minute Market/SWG) with reference to the
The European Commission (EC) prioritizes the widespread dissemination of good practices
regarding FW prevention in order to raise awareness at the various territorial levels. However, it is not
an easy task to plan and implement eﬀective policies and initiatives, due to the various aspects that
should be taken into consideration.
Firstly, the action of wasting food by individuals has been proven to be the result of multiple
complex factors and types of behavior, rather than the outcome of a single behavior [
studies have focused on the main activities that are responsible for FW, identifying consumers’
misunderstandings regarding “use by” and “best before” dates on food expiration date labels [
one of the most important.
Secondly, it has been demonstrated [
] that there are a range of factors that encourage people to
reduce FW at both individual and contextual (territorial) levels. For this reason, even if planning and
harmonization at a central European level is essential from a methodological perspective (i.e., common
deﬁnition, common methodologies to tackle FW issues), it is much more important to analyze national
contexts separately and enhance the level of disaggregation of the analysis in order to accurately
consider individual and territorial heterogeneity  when sample data make it possible.
Bearing in mind the previously mentioned issues, this paper considered date marking as an
activity that leads individuals to throw away edible food. Speciﬁcally, a recent study published in
2018 by the FW [
] estimated that up to 10% of the total amount of the FW generated annually in
the EU is associated with misunderstanding the expiration dates, which mainly concern main food
categories such as fruit and vegetables, bakery products, meat including ﬁsh and poultry, and dairy
products. Therefore, consumers who misinterpret the meaning of “use by” and “best before” tend
to waste more food. On the other hand, food business operators as well as national or international
regulatory authorities [
], who are responsible for the date marking of food products, may also have
an important role in FW generation.
In 2015, the EC carried out a speciﬁc survey—the Flash Eurobarometer (FE) n. 425—which is
the most recent representative survey at the national level to analyze consumer behavior regarding
the expiry dates found on food labels. The Eurobarometer results conﬁrmed that the expiry dates
found on food products are easily misunderstood, and that only 47% of European citizens comprehend
the meaning of best before labels and a small percentage of European citizens (40%) understand the
meaning of “use by”, with a substantial heterogeneity observed among the various countries .
These results in terms of dispersion strongly support the need to carry out analysis at least at a
national level, or for macro-regions where sample surveys allow this level of disaggregation. This
Sustainability 2019,11, 6821 3 of 15
was also underlined by Toma et al. [
], (p. 3) who stressed that, despite the fact that date labeling in
EU countries follows food Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and Council,
the diﬀerent regimes and the speed with which each country puts the legislation into eﬀect may
inﬂuence the understanding of date labeling for their citizens.
Within this framework, this paper focused on the Italian context and had two main aims. The ﬁrst
aim was to determine whether and to what extent Italian consumers comprehend use by and best
before dates by exploring consumers’ behavioral, attitudinal, and personal characteristics regarding
We then considered the possibility of removing best before dates on some products, which has
recently been proposed by the European Parliament. The FE survey investigated how respondents
would react if best before dates for certain non-perishable foods, such as rice, pasta, coﬀee, and tea were
removed, since this information is currently required by law. By adopting the generalized maximum
entropy (GME) estimator introduced by Golan et al. [
] and ﬁrst introduced in a segmentation
perspective for the FW context by Principato et al. [
] and Secondi et al. [
], we identiﬁed the
factors distinguishing individuals according to their diﬀerent behaviors towards this simulated action
(i.e., removal of best before date from a pack of spaghetti).
In general, the contribution of this paper is intended to represent a “virtual” application context
where an action is not taken on the prevention of food waste (as has been done up to now by a large
part of the literature on FW at the domestic level, mainly aimed at understanding factors that can
contribute to a reduction of food waste), compared to the outcomes/reactions that a concrete and
corrective action (speciﬁcally, removing the expiry date “to be consumed preferably by” from some
products) could have on FW generation. On this issue, the FE n.425 survey represents a valuable source
of data to be exploited.
However, it is worth noting the limit of analyzing behavior of an action on the basis of a statistical
survey (and, in this sense, the simulation to be contrasted with an actual real action) and not therefore
on the basis of activating a “true” action (speciﬁcally, this study started from a survey carried out by
the European commission aimed at understanding—albeit through a sample survey —the extent of
the problem of understanding expiration dates), but it is also true that the implementation of concrete
actions/policies—especially those related to economic and social issues—often begins from a “virtual”
action implemented through the use of econometric and statistical tools (speciﬁcally regression models
used for forecasting purposes, or in other contexts computable general equilibrium models and
The rest of the paper is structured as follows. Section 2illustrates the main characteristics of the
dataset used for the analysis and the theoretical statistical framework used for analyzing consumer
behavior. Section 3contains a summary of the results of the FE 425 survey and the GME multinomial
logit model estimates. In Section 4, the results obtained are discussed and useful insights for territorial
interventions are provided.
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. The Best Before and Use by Expiry Dates
The current European legislation on date marking is governed by EU-Regulation n. 1169/2011
regarding food information to consumers (FIC), which deﬁnes two ways of expressing expiry dates on
most pre-packed foods. On one hand, the best before date indicates the date (minimum durability)
up to which the food maintains its quality when properly stored, and a wide range of refrigerated,
frozen, dried (pasta, rice), and tinned foods are therefore marked in this way. As speciﬁed in the
brieﬁng published by European Parliament in 2015 [
] (p. 2), European legislation does not prohibit
the marketing of foods after their best before date has passed, while the speciﬁc marketing options of
are regulated at the national level .
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On the other hand, in the case of highly perishable foodstuﬀs such as fresh ﬁsh, meat, or dairy
products the use by date establishes the maximum date up to which the food can be eaten safely, as
foreseen by article 24 (1) of the FIC regulation.
It is important to note that the two diﬀerent labels should enable consumers to distinguish whether
the date concerns a safety threshold (i.e., use by) or a quality threshold (i.e., best before). As stressed in
the recent report published by the European Commission [
], even if best before and use by dates are
intended for consumers, they also prove useful for retailers and manufacturers in organizing food
(re)distribution and inventory management.
However, diﬀerences between consumers’ intentions and actual behavior exist due to diﬃculties
EU citizens have in understanding date labeling, as demonstrated by the FE 425 survey 425 carried out
in 2015 .
From a purely institutional perspective, the EU intends to simplify the labels placed on foods,
as well as to raise awareness regarding the use of expiry dates. In fact, as regards this issue, the EU
intends to establish a platform on food losses and FW in order to promote initiatives and actions so
that consumers can gain a better understanding of use by and best before dates. The EU also intends to
distribute leaﬂets and brochures explaining the diﬀerent meanings and consequences related to the
safety of foodstuﬀs when the expiration dates have passed.
From an academic perspective—combined with the research focused on understanding the role
of label expiration dates in consumer behavior [
]—there is a growing body of research on the
relationships between consumer understanding and the use of date labels and FW generation [
There is another important aspect regarding food storage in terms of the sensory skills required to
understand the freshness and quality of foods, which can be determined through taste, smell, and
touch. A speciﬁc study carried out on this issue [
] found that elderly people tend to use these senses
more than younger people, who pay more attention to date labels or storage times. It is therefore
important to instruct consumers, especially young people, to use their senses for assessing the edibility
of a food and to enhance consumers’ understanding of expiry dates and labels.
2.2. The FE Survey 425: An Overview Focused on Italian Consumers
The microdata used in this study were collected within the FE survey n. 425 carried out by the
TNS political and social network in the EU28 member states from 1 to 3 September 2015. Telephone
interviews were conducted in order to obtain a total sample of approximately 26,000 respondents from
diﬀerent social and demographic backgrounds (European Commission, 2015).
The aim of the survey was to gain a better understanding of the perceptions, behavior, and
practices of EU28 citizens regarding the management and consumption of foodstuﬀs, and to study the
role expiry dates play in generating FW .
The survey found that approximately 47 out of 100 EU28 citizens correctly comprehended best
before dates, while only 40% understood the term “use by”. In both cases, a high percentage of EU28
citizens (at least 25%) mistakenly believed that date marking varies according to the type of foodstuﬀ.
In this study, we focused on the Italian context by referring to a sample of 1003 individuals who
participated in the survey. The representativeness of the sample at the national level, constructed
by stratifying for NUTS2 region and urbanization levels and supported by the introduction of
post-stratiﬁcation weights (Table 1) gave us the opportunity to carry out a single-country level analysis,
thus enhancing the importance of taking into careful consideration and highlighting the heterogeneity
on this issue registered across the various EU28 countries, as well as towards the global EU28 results.
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Sociodemographic characteristics and FE-425 survey: the Italian national representative sub-set.
15–24 years 11.74
25–39 years 24.14
40–54 years 26.32
55 years and older 37.80
Educated to age
Up to 15 21.92
20 years and older 33.40
Still studying 6.90
No full-time education 0.51
Household size (aged 15+)
Macro-area (Italy NUTS-1) of residence
Note: Post-stratiﬁcation survey weights—available with the FE-425 —were applied.
It was observed that Italian consumers were not completely aware of their role in reducing FW,
since (in response to the question 1 of the FE-425 questionnaires) only 54% of Italian consumers
acknowledged that consumers were the main category responsible. It should be noted that the
percentage was considerably lower than the average value of the EU28 countries (76%). In Italy,
most responsible category was found to be the hospitality and food service sector, with a
percentage of 46%, followed by shops and retailers (32%), food manufacturers (30%), public authorities
(18%), and lastly farmers (12%).
When Italian consumers were asked what they would do to reduce FW at home, most of them
believed that meal planning and shopping more carefully (45%) were the best solutions, followed
by re-using leftovers instead of wasting them (40%) while only 16% believed that more detailed
information on best before and use by dates and food product labels (i.e., information on storing and
preparing food) would help to reduce waste.
Expiry dates proved to be more important for Italians than the total (global) EU28 citizens,
as approximately 68% stated that they always look at them when shopping and preparing meals,
compared to 58% of EU28 citizens.
2.3. The Multinomial Framework: The GME Econometric Speciﬁcation
With the aim of understanding how Italian consumers consider best before dates, we referred
to the multinomial logit framework by referring to Question 7 from the FE survey, regarding how
consumers would behave if they found a package of spaghetti without a best before date and they could
not remember when they bought it. The studied possible answers (J =4) to this question enabled us to
implement diﬀerent scenarios of individuals’ reactions (in the analysis, the last category “You never
Sustainability 2019,11, 6821 6 of 15
look at the dates” was considered together with the responses “Don’t know” and Not available). In the
multinomial framework, each response—compared to a selected reference situation—corresponded
to the estimation of a regression model. As further detailed in Section 3, we obtained J-1 regression
models, with one category as referent category.
In considering both the analysis and sample size at country-level and in order to explore this
issue at a more disaggregated level, we used the GME non-parametric approach [
these characteristics in mind, the GME enabled us not to impose parametric assumptions on the error
distributions, thus leaving the data to speak for themselves. Moreover, it provides better results
than classical estimators when the data are characterized by ill-conditioned (highly collinear data) or
ill-posed (small and limited sample size) situations.
The GME multinomial logit model estimation was included in the general multinomial framework
concerning unordered discrete data.
The development of the statistical methodological framework able to describe the data generation
] considered an experiment composed of N trials, in which y
. . .
variables were observed and where y
for i=1, 2,
. . .
,Ttook on one of the Junordered categories
j=1, 2, . . . ,J[26,27].
By assuming that p
—as the probability of alternative jfor unit i—is related to a set of covariates,
the following equation can be speciﬁed .
pij =Probyij =1
iβj>0f or i =1, 2, . . . ,T;j=1, 2, . . . J
(K x 1)
vectors of unknowns,
covariate vector, and
is the function
which links the probabilities p
to the set of covariates in order to satisfy the condition that
By adding the noise component to Equation (1), we obtain
iβj+eij =pij +eij (1)
In order to capture the unknown and unobservable
, we used indirect empirical
measurements of the noisy observable
and the known covariates
. According to Golan et al.
(1996a), we introduced the information contained in the (T
of covariates by transforming
the statistical models into an inverse problem with noise, linear in p:
when estimating this model within the GME framework, it was necessary to reparametrize the elements
is already in probability form. Bearing in mind the nature of the dependent variable
the error term could assume values between [
1, 1], and therefore we adopted the support space
v=−1/√T, 0, 1/√T
with a number of support points Mequal to 3 and w
as the corresponding
probabilities to be estimated, so that eij =Pmvi jm wi jm, where Pmwijm =1.
As a result, the maximization of the joint entropy (signal and error terms)
p,wH(p,w)=−p0ln p−w0ln w(3)
subject to data constraints
and the normalization constraints led us to the solution of this optimization problem, and therefore to
obtain the estimated of pij and wijm (and then eij) as
Sustainability 2019,11, 6821 7 of 15
βjwhere Ψij ˆ
With the aim of improving the readability of the estimation results, we referred to the relative risk
ratios (RRRs) that can be obtained from the estimated coeﬃcient ˆ
For each covariate, the RRR measured how the risk of observing the speciﬁc outcome category
in the studied group varies compared to the risk of observing the outcome in the reference group.
A value of the RRR higher (lower) than 1 means that the risk of observing the outcome category in
the comparison group was higher (lower) than the risk of observing the outcome category in the
3.1. Best Before and Use By Dates: Do We All Understand Correctly and in the Same Way?
One of the ﬁrst results obtained using the FE-425 microdata was that approximately 67% of Italians
“always” check at use by or best before dates on food labels when shopping and preparing meals.
Indeed, the percentage of Italians who replied “always” to the question regarding how often they
check expiry dates when shopping and preparing meals (i.e., Question Q3 in the FE questionnaire)
was approximately 9 percentage points higher than the EU28 overall. Similarly, EU28 citizens paid
less attention than Italians in checking expiry dates “often” or “sometimes” (23% of Italians declaring
“often”, compared to 21% of EU28 citizens, and 9% of Italians declaring “sometimes”, compared to 7%
of EU28 citizens).
However, the amount of attention Italians paid to expiry dates diﬀered signiﬁcantly between
males and females (Pearson chi
(5) =24.0217, Pr =0.000); women paid more attention to the expiry
dates on food labels than men. This was conﬁrmed by the fact that 73.70% of women said they always
check them, against 61.77% of men. Furthermore, 22.25% of Italian men said that they often check
expiry dates, while 4.54% seldom do so and 3.46% never check them. As regards Italian women, 18.33%
often check expiry dates, 5.19% sometimes check them, 1.48% seldom check them, and only 1.11%
never check them.
A signiﬁcant, although slight, relationship (Pearson chi
(25) =36.5610, Pr =0.064) emerged
between attention to date marking and age group. Indeed, most of the interviewees (irrespective of age)
claimed to always check the expiry dates on the labels of food products, with people aged 65 and over
paying close attention to them (approximately 73.42% of people in this age group claimed to always
check expiration dates), as did people aged between 35–44 (approximately 71.69% of people in this age
group claimed to always check expiration dates). On the other hand, the highest percentages of people
who seldom or never check best before or use by dates were observed among youths: approximately
1 in 10 youths
aged between 15 and 24 stated that they seldom or never check expiry dates. However,
the second highest percentage was found for middle-aged people (between 55 and 64 years old); more
than 6% of the individuals in this age group declared that they seldom or never check expiry dates.
The questionnaires contained two questions regarding the issue of understanding (correct
comprehension) or misunderstanding best before and use by dates.
On observing the interviewees’ responses to the question concerning the meaning of the best
before date, it was evident that more than 50% of the Italians perfectly understood the meaning of this
food label (55.68%), thus proving that Italians understand food labels better than the average EU28
citizens (in which group the same percentage was equal to 47%).
However, approximately one Italian in ﬁve (20.34%) confused the meaning of the best before label
with the use by, since they stated that food can be consumed up to the indicated date, but it cannot be
Sustainability 2019,11, 6821 8 of 15
consumed later, and approximately 21.45% of Italians were convinced that the meaning of this wording
varies according to the type of food on which it is placed, while the others declared “none of these” or
said that they did not know.
More than half of the Italian respondents (51.34%) knew exactly what the use by expiry date
means, once again showing that Italians are more knowledgeable than the EU28 national average
(approximately equal to 40%). However, nearly 50% of the Italian respondents confused “use by”
with “best before” (20.24%), stated that the meaning of this label varies according to the type of food
(26.47%), or did not ﬁnd the correct answer in any of the options or declared that they did not know
(or did not answer the question).
A ﬁrst in-depth distinction of awareness of expiration dates was made by age group. Based on the
independence test—even bearing in mind the limitations of a bivariate analysis—a
dependency between age class and knowledge of understanding of the term “best before” did not
seem to emerge. It would be interesting to see if, when viewed from a multivariate perspective,
age—the eﬀect of which was considered along with other potentially confounding factors—represents
a statistically signiﬁcant factor.
As regards the term “use by”, the existence of a statistically signiﬁcant dependency relationship,
albeit a weak one (p-value <0.10), was observed. On the basis of joint distributions, those who appeared
to have a better understanding of the meaning of “use by” were those who fell within the 25–34 age
group (64.18% answered the question correctly), while the fewest correct answers were observed for
those aged 15–24 (41.67% replied correctly) and those aged 65 and over (48.27% replied correctly).
3.2. Exploring the Need for Best Before Labeling on Non-Perishable Foods: A Multinomial GME Approach
3.2.1. If You Find in Your Pantry a Packet of Spaghetti without an Indication of Best Before Date,
What Would Your Reaction Be?
The FE survey also included a question which introduced us to a simulation (virtual) scenario.
The interviewees were asked how they would behave if they could found a package of spaghetti
without a best before date, and they could not remember when they bought it (Question Q7 in the FE
survey). Faced with this situation, most people would tend to consume this food if the product looked
all right and the packaging was not damaged: the percentage of Italian respondents who selected
this response category was equal to 43.25%, higher than the average percentage level for the same
statement given by all EU28 individuals who participated in the survey. Approximately, only one
Italian out of ﬁve “would use spaghetti anyway” (21.23%), while this option was selected by more
than one-third of EU28 citizens. As a result, a product without a best before indication would be used
by approximately 64% of the Italians against approximately 70% of the overall EU28 citizens.
A total 29.59% of Italians replied that they would throw it away, while 5.20% responded “don’t
know” and 0.73% declared that they never check expiry dates. Before analyzing from a multivariate
perspective using the GME multinomial regression model, the factors (both sociodemographic and
attitudinal–personal characteristics) related to the various statements (i.e., the four considered response
categories detailed below) oﬀered by this question were distinguished the percentages of responses
to each category according to region. Figure 1shows the distribution of responses across the Italian
regions by distinguishing the situations (by reading the cartograms from the top left to the bottom
right): (a) you would use it only if the packaging is not damaged and the product looks all right;
(b) you would use it anyway; (c) you would throw it away; (d) you never look at dates or don’t know.
In order to understand the cartograms reported in Figure 1, it is important to note that the darker
the color, the larger is the percentage of individuals it represents. For example, when focusing on the
percentage of people who would use spaghetti anyway, the greatest percentage of individuals was
found in Piedmont/Valle d’Aosta (36.44%), followed by individuals residing in Umbria (32%) and
Lombardy (28.86%) while the lowest percentages—as the lightest color in the ﬁgure highlights—were
found in Liguria (13.58%), Abruzzo/Molise (13.12%), and Puglia/Basilicata (10.64%). On the other hand,
the highest percentages of people who would throw away the packet of spaghetti without a best before
Sustainability 2019,11, 6821 9 of 15
label were observed in Calabria (49.76%), Campania (40.82%), and Liguria (36.15%), while the most
knowledgeable individuals were those residing in Trentino Alto Adige, where nobody declared that
they would throw the pack of spaghetti away.
Sustainability 2018, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 9 of 16
Figure 1. What would happen if the term “best before” was removed from spaghetti packets?
Evidence at the regional level in Italy (percentage distribution).
3.2.2. The Multinomial GME Estimation Results
The estimation results of the GME multinomial model reported in Table 2 show the estimated
coefficients, the related standard errors, and the significance level. As previously mentioned, a key
issue in the multinomial framework is that the reported estimates referred to J-1 estimated models
(with J = 4 the number of the categories of the dependent variable), with one category/level chosen as
referent group. Table 1, below, shows the estimation results given the dependent variable “If you
found a package of spaghetti in your kitchen cupboard with no best before date indicated on the label and you
could not remember when you bought it, what would you do?”, and the reference category “Use it anyway”
to which the estimates were compared. Therefore, the parameter estimates for each outcome J of the
dependent variable are related to the referent group. As a result, the standard interpretation (for a
continuous variable) of a generic estimated coefficient in the multinomial logit is that for a unit
change in the studied covariate, the logit of outcome J relative to the referent group is expected to
What would happen if the term “best before” was removed from spaghetti packets? Evidence
at the regional level in Italy (percentage distribution).
3.2.2. The Multinomial GME Estimation Results
The estimation results of the GME multinomial model reported in Table 2show the estimated
coeﬃcients, the related standard errors, and the signiﬁcance level. As previously mentioned, a key
issue in the multinomial framework is that the reported estimates referred to J-1 estimated models
(with J=4 the number of the categories of the dependent variable), with one category/level chosen
as referent group. Table 1, below, shows the estimation results given the dependent variable “If you
Sustainability 2019,11, 6821 10 of 15
found a package of spaghetti in your kitchen cupboard with no best before date indicated on the label and you
could not remember when you bought it, what would you do?”, and the reference category “Use it anyway”
to which the estimates were compared. Therefore, the parameter estimates for each outcome Jof the
dependent variable are related to the referent group. As a result, the standard interpretation (for a
continuous variable) of a generic estimated coeﬃcient in the multinomial logit is that for a unit change
in the studied covariate, the logit of outcome Jrelative to the referent group is expected to change by its
respective parameter estimate (which is in log-odds units), holding constant the other variables in the
model. In order to facilitate the interpretation of the results, we computed the RRRs, which enabled us
to obtain a measure of likelihood of each speciﬁc outcome compared to the referent outcome for each
covariate in the regression models.
Before analyzing the estimation results, it is worth underlining that the estimated model revealed a
reduction of uncertainty (distance from the uniform distribution) from the collected data as highlighted
by the normalized entropy, equal to 0.8092 [
]—used to assess the adequacy of the estimated
model—and the pseudo-R
, equal to 0.1908. Therefore, the selected model may help to explain the
drivers and the proﬁles and behaviors of individuals concerning the diﬀerent behaviors towards a
product (package of spaghetti) without a best before date. Another diagnostic tool that characterizes
the GME discrete choice estimator is the entropy ratio statistic (ERS =261.8), which behaves like the
likelihood ratio test by comparing the log-likelihood value of the unconstrained problem, which was
(with Tthe number of observations and Jthe number of unordered discrete choice
categories), with the same value observed for the constrained problem lΩ=−pln p=1110.6.
Focusing on the estimated coeﬃcient and the computed RRRs, the following results proved
interesting for discussion.
Firstly, focusing on sociodemographic characteristics, and speciﬁcally regarding age, we found
that older people were less likely to throw away products without best before dates. In fact, individuals
aged 55 and over were less likely to consume a product without a best before label only if the packaging
was not damaged and the product looked all right (RRR =0.707) and the same results were obtained
for the statement “you would throw it away” (RRR =0.557). The interpretation of this result—as for
all of the results in the estimated models—must consider the reference category for age (individuals
aged 40–54) and the selected referent category for the outcome variable (“Use it anyway”). Moreover,
the macro-regional context in which individuals reside was observed to be highly important. In fact,
the possibility of wasting or throwing away a product without best before dates was higher in the
southern Italian regions (RRR =2.223 for the category “You would use it only if the packaging is not
damaged and the product looks all right” and RRR =3.142 for the category “You would throw it away”)
compared to north-western regions. However, it is worth noting that all the macro-areas (north-east,
center, and south, except for islands) had RRRs greater than 1, thus highlighting a higher likelihood of
wasting a product without a best before dates compared to the north-western regions. Once again,
the macro-regional context, it was observed that people residing in southern regions were
also more likely to not check expiration dates on products (RRR =2.682). As regards household size,
signiﬁcant relationships were observed for a household of four or more people; individuals in these
households were more likely to check the packaging and the state of the product in order to decide
whether to eat it or not (RRR =1.782). On the other hand, households composed of two individuals
were more likely (RRR =2.054) to throw away a product without a best before label compared than
single person households.
Secondly, attitudinal variables were found to play an important role. Individuals who tried to
minimize FW at home (i.e., by planning their shopping and meals better) or out-of-home (i.e., by
checking/asking for smaller portion sizes in shops were those who were more likely to waste products
(in our case the spaghetti) without best before labels (RRR =1.401 and RRR =1.775, respectively).
other hand, people who asked for smaller portion sizes in shops were also those most likely to
never check the expiry dates on products.
Sustainability 2019,11, 6821 11 of 15
Table 2. Generalized maximum entropy (GME) multinomial logit model: estimation results.
If You Found a Package of Spaghetti in Your Kitchen Cupboard with No “Best Before” Date Indicated on the Label and You Could Not
Remember When You Bought It, What Would You Do? (Dependent Variable—Reference Category: “Use It Anyway”)
You Would Use It Only If the Packaging Is Not
Damaged and the Product Looks All Right You Would Throw It Away You Never Look at Dates
Coef. Std. Err. z P >z RRR Coef. Std. Err. z P >z RRR Coef. Std. Err. z P >z RRR
If you no longer found best before dates on other
non-perishable foods, how would you respond?
(reference: You would miss this information)
You do not need this information −
0.212 0.796 −
0.000 0.206 −
0.382 −2.930 0.003 0.326
DK/NA 0.817 0.784 1.040 0.297 2.264 0.405 0.848 0.480 0.633 1.500 1.355 0.938 1.450 0.148 3.878
AGE (ref. 40–54 years)
0.752 0.899 −
0.348 0.694 0.161 0.647 0.250 0.803 1.175
25–39 0.053 0.273 0.190 0.846 1.054 0.206 0.291 0.710 0.480 1.228 −
0.600 −0.790 0.429 0.622
55 years and older −
0.094 0.707 −
0.010 0.557 0.484 0.360 1.340 0.179 1.622
Region—Italy—NUTS 1 (ref. north-west)
North-east 0.744 0.250 2.970 0.003 2.105 0.569 0.289 1.970 0.049 1.766 0.457 0.454 1.010 0.314 1.579
Centre 0.427 0.247 1.730 0.084 1.532 0.522 0.278 1.880 0.060 1.685 0.259 0.448 0.580 0.564 1.295
South 0.799 0.261 3.060 0.002 2.223 1.145 0.281 4.080 0.000 3.142 0.986 0.428 2.310 0.021 2.682
Islands 0.499 0.308 1.620 0.106 1.647 0.537 0.337 1.590 0.111 1.712 0.146 0.582 0.250 0.801 1.158
Type of community (ref. rural area or village)
Small or middle-sized town −
0.690 0.916 −
0.989 0.997 0.382 0.431 0.890 0.375 1.466
Large town 0.159 0.272 0.580 0.559 1.173 0.259 0.301 0.860 0.389 1.296 0.610 0.501 1.220 0.224 1.840
Correct answer towards Expiration dates −
0.644 0.946 0.027 0.133 0.200 0.839 1.027 0.136 0.212 0.640 0.521 1.146
Household size, aged 15+(ref. 1)
2 0.340 0.248 1.370 0.170 1.405 0.720 0.284 2.540 0.011 2.054 0.689 0.452 1.520 0.128 1.991
0.528 0.842 0.183 0.309 0.590 0.553 1.201 0.475 0.491 0.970 0.333 1.608
4+0.578 0.291 1.980 0.047 1.782 0.497 0.336 1.480 0.139 1.643 0.467 0.556 0.840 0.401 1.595
How often do you check use by or best before dates? (ref.
Often 0.207 0.217 0.950 0.342 1.229 −
0.046 0.596 0.175 0.368 0.480 0.634 1.192
Sometimes 0.013 0.333 0.040 0.969 1.013 −
0.412 0.719 −
0.986 −1.270 0.203 0.285
0.564 0.772 −
0.067 0.334 −
3.005 −1.080 0.281 0.039
0.005 0.147 −
0.195 0.498 −
1.069 −1.090 0.276 0.312
Actors you think play a role in preventing FW
Food manufacturers −
0.273 0.803 −
0.258 0.781 −
0.345 −0.380 0.704 0.877
Shop and retailers −
0.258 0.806 −
0.149 0.738 −
0.330 −0.640 0.521 0.809
What would help you to waste less food at home?
Better shopping and meal planning by your household (M) 0.337 0.180 1.870 0.062 1.401 0.045 0.199 0.230 0.822 1.046 0.253 0.315 0.810 0.421 1.288
Availability of smaller portion sizes in shops 0.574 0.200 2.870 0.004 1.775 0.324 0.222 1.460 0.145 1.382 0.604 0.335 1.810 0.071 1.830
Notes: Number of observations =990; Entropy for probabilities =1110.6; Normalized entropy =0.8092; Entropy Ratio Statistics (ERS) =261.8; Criterion F(log L) =−5459.1532.
Sustainability 2019,11, 6821 12 of 15
4. Discussion and Conclusions
Best before dates were ﬁrst introduced by the EU in 1979 and even today, Italian consumers, as
well as consumers in other European countries, are not sure of or cannot correctly interpret these
labels on food products, as they confuse them with a true expiry date aﬀecting the food safety of
a product, like the use by date. Consequently, many consumers throw food away when they are
uncertain whether it is safe to eat [
]; the confusion and misunderstanding between the meanings of
expiration dates has been recognized as one of the most important causes of FW [9,14,22,29–31].
Judging from the answers given during the FE survey (n =425), the term “best before” is still very
important, as it indicates when the quality of a product will start to decline. In fact, focusing on the
Italian context, 69% of Italians said that they would miss the label (compared to an EU28 overall value
of 44%), and the rest of the citizens required this information on some non-perishable products such as
rice, pasta, coﬀee, or tea. A total 2% did not express an opinion on this statement.
The descriptive results of the FE 425 survey must ﬁrst of all bring attention to the eﬀects that
a possible action aimed at removing the expiration date from some foods could have in terms of
reduction of food waste. At this point, the research question on which our paper was based arises:
How could any action in this area be implemented in every single country? Speciﬁcally, should the
application be uniform within the macro-areas existing in each member country? Does the local context
play an important role here too?
This survey gave us the opportunity to evaluate Italian consumers’—thus focusing on a single
national context—reactions against an eﬀective action represented by removing the expiry date from
spaghetti. Considering those individuals who would still use the product even in the absence of the
best before label and who would probably use their sensory skills (vision and smell) to evaluate the
wholesomeness and safe-integrity of the product as a reference category, we analyzed the characteristics
of those people who—in diﬀerent percentages among the regional (macro) areas of Italy—would use
the product only if the packaging seemed undamaged and the product seemed edible, rather than
those who would who throw the spaghetti away in any case and those who never check expiry dates.
Our results can be addressed to the strategy to be pursued at an international level in order to
halve FW by 2030, as envisaged by the European Union in the circular economy package [
also one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 12.3). Indeed, in this
to the results of the multinomial regression model, we sought to identify proﬁles
(groups) of those individuals with whom it is necessary to intervene in order to correct any wasteful
behavior, and the individuals who misunderstand the real meaning of the best before label.
The individuals who would throw away the product in any case if the expiry date (best before)
was no longer expressed on the package proved to be mainly individuals under the age of 55, thus
conﬁrming that older people are more likely to use their sensory skills [
] to determine the quality
and safety of a product rather than checking expiry dates. Moreover, at the Italian national level these
individuals mainly resided in southern Italian regions. However, it is important to note that the most
valuable macro-area was represented by the north-west, since all the other macro-areas had higher
RRR values (>1).
Those who would “conditionally” throw away a packet of spaghetti without an expiry date and
only keep it if both the package seemed undamaged and the product seemed edible were those who
reside in southern and north-eastern macro-areas, and were part of large families (households with
four or more individuals), probably with children within the family nucleus that might make people
more attentive towards expiry dates. To complete this proﬁle, our results suggested that people who
are concerned about FW pay more attention to packaging and product aesthetics. This result may
conﬁrm that consumers who are aware of FW have a better attitude towards it [
], try to plan
their shopping better [
], and are ready to ask for smaller portions when they go out for
lunch or dinner [16,36].
The analysis at the national level once again highlighted the existence of diﬀerences in behavior
towards FW across countries (speciﬁcally, in this study, the diﬀerences observed between Italian people
Sustainability 2019,11, 6821 13 of 15
and the overall EU28) and, even more importantly, the validity and strong need to carefully consider
the territorial dimension (at the maximum level of disaggregation, compatibly with the statistical
signiﬁcance of the results) in the analyses, as underlined by Secondi et al. , for the inclusion of this
dimension in explaining of the variability associated with this type of behavior, and by Corrado et al. [
with regard to the need for surveys and statistical surveys which give the chance to policy-makers of
taking decisions locally or at a greater level of disaggregation, going deeper up to the municipality level.
At these levels of disaggregation (European LAU-1 or LAU-2 levels), non-parametric estimators—such
as the GME estimator used in this study—can oﬀer further valuable advantages.
Furthermore, our results diﬀerent ways of applying a hypothetical removal of expiry dates within a
single country. For example, having identiﬁed diﬀerent behaviors at the regional macro-area level—also
conﬁrmed by the estimated regression model—the practical suggestion for policy-makers could be to
ﬁrst implement targeted preliminary actions (information and awareness-raising campaigns) on the
role of expiry dates and on their actual meaning in speciﬁcally selected areas—i.e., the groups living in
those regions where an incorrect behavior is expected to be observed. Only after having bridged this
information gap should the best before date be eliminated from products, therefore hopefully leading
to an eﬀective result of this concrete action in reducing FW.
Further research should be carried out in order to pursue these objectives in terms of both
understanding the drivers linked to FW, and in terms of statistical methodology capable of providing
a correct and proper interpretation of these phenomena. However, this study could be the basis
for the implementation of eﬀective policies on which to apply impact assessments. At the same
towards uniform investigations and surveys, thus respecting the coherence and
comparability dimensions of the statistical information provided by Eurostat, and implemented
to ensure statistical signiﬁcance at local level—for example by using small area estimation (SAE)
methods—could be one of the next FW reduction targets to be achieved using a bottom-up strategy,
that is, by considering the local level as being capable of reducing the overall amount of FW generated.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Conﬂicts of Interest: The author declares no conﬂict of interest.
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