Stopping food waste is a huge priority at Tommy’s Superfoods, and one of the reasons why we are proponents of frozen vegetables. Not only are frozen vegetables just as healthy – or sometimes more healthy – than fresh, but they also last much longer and reduce food waste at all points in the food chain: from field to fork.
As advocates against food waste, we often get questions from our customers about how they can help to reduce food waste and about what food waste looks like at various points in the food chain. A recent question we received was, “What happens to all the unsold food products in shops, supermarkets, and eateries?” We thought this was an excellent question and set out to find the answer, which is shared below. Do you have questions about food or nutrition you’d like to see answered? Send us an email and we’ll post the answer in our Super Tips!
The Fate of Unsold Food in Shops and Supermarkets
After closing time, the night shift at your local grocery store begins. From canned goods and salad dressings, to fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and dairy, items are removed from shelves because their expiration dates have past or they are otherwise considered “unfit for sale” (for example dented boxes and cans or a banana with brown spots). As the average grocery store stocks anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 different products, the late night hours are spent collecting a never-ending stream of past-their-prime items.
While most stores do an excellent job of minimizing waste because it negatively impacts bottom-line profits, the fact remains that food considered unsellable gets thrown out. However, for many stores, there is a growing trend to cut back the amount of food that ends up in the landfill and to increase the amounts donated to food banks and soup kitchens. Many stores also resell removed items to discount grocery stores that specialize in processed food past their expiration dates. These “salvage” grocery stores stock expired, but safe to eat foods, at deeply discounted prices and attract both low-income shoppers as well as those who are environmentally conscious.
Purchasing expired foods from salvage stores is gaining popularity in America as dollar-conscious consumers come to understand that many packaged foods are safe to eat past their sell by date. At the same time, food pantries across the nation continue to report increases in the need for emergency food assistance, so making sure that edible food stays out of landfills and remains available to those who want it or need it is essential.
Don’t Throw Out Food Just Because of the Expiration Date
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agrees that expiration dates are merely an indication of optimum quality by the manufacturer. Consuming food after the “expiration” date does not pose a health risk. While some processed foods such as salad dressings and jarred sauces will gradually degrade in taste and visual appeal over time, if they are unopened, there is minimal risk of contamination.
The Fate of Unsold Food in Restaurants
While food retailers are doing a better job of reducing food waste and making sure expired foods don’t end up in the trash, there are still other food providers, such as restaurants and hotels, who remain hesitant about giving unsellable or unwanted food a second life.
For many hotels and restaurants, the hesitance to donate food is often tied to a mistaken belief that a business can be legally liable if a person becomes ill through eating donated food. While this was the case in past years, in 1996, the US Congress passed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which protects good faith food donors from liability.
The second issue that prevents food donations is logistics. Unlike grocery store chains which operate on large distribution and shipping networks, and have ample storage space, many restaurants and hotels don’t have adequate room to store unneeded food while waiting for a local human services agency to pick it up.
Feeding America Steps in to Help
The non-profit organization Feeding America is trying to make it easier for businesses to donate food by serving as a middleman between food vendors and various regional/national agencies and food banks.
Feeding America currently offers the largest national network of food banks and is responsible for ensuring that 46 million food-insecure Americans get the food they need every year. In the last decade, the organization has increased the amount of unsellable food it receives from food vendors from 1.9 billion pounds to 4 billion pounds annually.
You Can Encourage The Businesses You Patronize to Reduce Food Waste
While organizations like Feeding America are a success story for how to minimize food waste and help to keep our nation’s impoverished fed, there is still more work to be done to educate retailers. The next time you’re in your favorite grocery store or restaurant, be sure to ask about their commitment to reducing waste and indicate your support of such initiatives. The more customers who make their voices known, the better chance there is of effecting change!
You can also support their efforts by buying “ugly” produce or short dated items, and by making it a priority to shop in the frozen section. Purchasing frozen vegetables and fruits over fresh not only will reduce the amount of waste in grocery stores, as they have to stock less fresh produce prone to bruising, wilting, and spoilage, but it also increases the shelf life of the foods in your home.
Stopping Food Waste Requires All of Us
Though it’s important to encourage businesses to take on practices that reduce food waste, it’s also important to keep in mind most food waste happens at home.
Here at Tommy’s Superfoods, we are seriously committed to combating food waste both in our kitchen and in yours! Our flash-frozen vegetable medleys can help you cut back on the vegetables you throw away, without sacrificing good taste or quality nutrition.
Want to know more about how you can combat food waste? Read this post about how ordinary people can help stop food waste.