“Sell by” date just a suggestion

Ever wonder what happens to grocery store items that don’t get sold before their expiration dates? Wonder no more, thanks to this report from Nadia Arumugam at The Atlantic. The answers include the dumpster, food pantries, and salvage grocery stores. As Arumugam describes, “outdated, damaged, and out-of-season items from supermarkets, collectively known as ‘unsaleables,’ are sent to large clearing houses known as reclamation centers. These are most often operated by the supermarket chains themselves or wholesale distributors. Here, dangerous items such as broken jars and obviously contaminated or spoiled foods are disposed of. The remainder is sold into the salvage industry or donated to food banks. Every two weeks Patricia Quillen, owner of the Country Discount Grocery [in Wautoma, Wisconsin], re-stocks her store with a 53-foot trailer packed full of goods from the reclamation center. The unsaleables are stuffed into cardboard banana boxes, each one containing a mixture of up to 40 different food and health and beauty items. No one box is identical. So Quillen says she really doesn’t know what’s going to line her shelves until she opens them up. In fact, out of the 1,152 boxes in a single delivery there might be just one jar of much-desired blueberry jam.”

Given all the preservatives in processed, packaged foods, many of these foodstuffs are safe to eat past their expiration dates, though eventually their flavor, texture, and/or appearance will begin to suffer. Also, unless you’re talking about baby formula or some baby foods, the resale of these expired products is legal, since the FDA has “decided that expiration dates are simply an indication of optimum quality as deemed by the manufacturer.” Personally, I always use eggs past their expiration date, along with those infrequently used spices that have been in my cupboard for a while, but I haven’t ever intentionally bought expired items.

As Arumugam details, food that ends up in the dumpster also ends up on some folks’ plates, too. Ever heard the term freegan? Click this link or this one for more info, and then enjoy this loving spoof from Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen of “Portlandia.”


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