Lighting The Way?


Walking around Tesco, you’d think it’s 1pm in high summer from the moment you walk in, to when you eventually crawl out 2 hours later. But, as it turns out, supermarket lighting is more than just disorientating (don’t forget obtrusive and unflattering), it’s actually degrading the quality of your food and drink. 

Promoting the fresh appearance of products to shift them off of shelves, and simultaneously saving on energy bills, seems like a no brainer. But with more and more supermarkets opting for LED lighting, it appears the last century’s extensive research on the detrimental effects on our food is being aggravated, not addressed.  So, what is going on? 

In short, bright artificial lighting negatively affects the taste of food and drink while also reducing the level of nutrients.   Getting technical, in 2017 The Journal of Dairy Science published a paper about the influence of lighting and packaging on consumer acceptance of milk.

Research indicated that exposure to bright lighting negatively affected the flavour of securely packaged milk.  HDPE and clear PET packaging are most affected – and these are the polymers bottling up basically all milk.   Fluorescent and LED lighting are the most damaging and are widespread in supermarkets, you’ll find them in pretty much all fridges, freezers, and ambient aisles now. 

This is not news.  Perhaps not so encouragingly, it turns out these studies have existed in periodicals dating back over 100 years. You can find papers in The Journal of Dairy Science as far as 1899, with Browne’s study on such ‘light-induced flavours’. 

Ploughing through paper after paper, the general consensus is that after 6 hours of exposure to fluorescent lighting, people rate milk as less agreeable. In fact, it is under fluorescent lighting that people are more likely to find their milk tastes dodgy.  It’s not just milk. Meat, butter, and cheese are all affected. 

Although dependant on packaging, meat discolours, butter tastes strange, and the shelf life of cheese decreases by up to three-quarters.  And vegans aren’t safe either.  Soymilk, when exposed to average refrigerator lighting in HDPE bottles, lasts 15 days before oxidisation. With light protective additives, they lasted 29 days.  

Taste and shelf life are among the more concerning effects of lighting – nutrient degradation.  Vitamins A, B2, and D3 are all greatly reduced when milk is exposed to artificial lighting. They cover a range of quite important compounds that protect the immune system, help to produce energy, and aid bone growth.  After all, milk is supposed to help your bones grow stronger. 

It’s not an impending health issue, but people are being deceived. And considering the state of social media, and our changing definitions of lies and deceit, at least it seems that dishonestly is being scrutinised in all areas of our lives/across the board. 

The difference now is that light is bluer, brighter, and altogether, quicker at deteriorating food and drink – and supermarkets are slotting it in every unlit corner.  Hopefully, the ethically motivated folk of today will stir a public outcry. Something as important as the nutritional value one of the most commoditised drinks on the planet is sure to catch somebody’s eye. 

Do you think we need to pay more attention to how food products are displayed in supermarkets before purchase? Contact Roseanna at [email protected] or call us on +44 (0) 1803 203387

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