View Full Version : What happens to unsold food?

The Controvert
06-11-2004, 08:54 PM
Is it 100% reused, or is it thrown away?

I'd imagine some of it goes to soup kitchens, some of it ends up as animal feed.

How much perishible food (i.e. bakery items, milk, fruits, veggies) is unsold?

06-11-2004, 09:08 PM
When I worked at Meijer(a huge grocery store chain in the mid-west), we threw away tons of our bakery food every day. I would see apple pies that were only a few hours old be thrown away, thinking, "Can't we just give this food to the poor or sell it off cheaply to the staff?"

Nope, they tossed all of it.

06-11-2004, 09:12 PM
I asked about this in a local 'bakery' (ie fast-food pastry) once - they had a daily collection for unsold fresh produce, which would be processed into pig food.

It made their pork pies even less appealing.

06-11-2004, 09:18 PM
I don't know if they still do it but the last I heard Giant Supermarkets (Ahold) here in Md. let the various groups who feed the homeless gather the unsold foodstuffs from their distribution centers.

Giant did this because folks were climbing into their dumpsters to get at the food that Giant tossed.

06-11-2004, 09:27 PM
My company trashes all past date[or even close-to-date], stale and otherwise unsellable items. It breaks my heart to see what goes down the chute to the dumpster[all the breads and rolls are the real kicker] We've never been told specifically, but I believe the reason they don't give it to charities is because of liability problems if someone gets sick from the food.

06-11-2004, 09:43 PM
Part of it is that it is just a public relations nightmare. It kind of comes off as "This food isn't safe or good enough for real people, but those animals out in the alley can have it". So it's easier to throw away, then give to the homeless.

06-11-2004, 09:47 PM
The company annually collects over a quarter of a million dollars in funds and tons of non-perishable products, which are donated to food banks to help feed the hungry in local communities.

From Giant's site (http://www.giantfood.com/company_press_article.cfm?press_id=242) .

06-11-2004, 10:25 PM
I work for Food Services at a major university in Ontario. All unused food is thrown away at the end of each meal. The people we could feed we our food garbage, just at my outlet alone, is insane. My estimate for food waste at our outlet daily would be between 40-70 lbs daily; and that's just food making into the dishroom for waste, much more is just thrown out in the kitchen and at the serving stations.

Ture; a small amount is saved to be recycled. However, it pales in comparison with the amount that could be either reused or donated.

06-12-2004, 09:39 AM
- - - At the store that I work at, stuff that has expired or spoiled gets thrown away, no matter what it is. Items that are cosmetically damaged get returned to the warehouse where I understand that those that are still edible do get distributed to charity somehow, but I don't know the details of how that's done. The store does have a cart or two of items with minor cosmetic damage that they mark down for in-store customers to buy, but they end up with far more than that--most of it gets sent back. I can say that only dry and canned goods get sent back--no produce, frozen, meat or dairy at all, all that gets trashed--because the pallet of stuff (usually ~3 feet tall, three layers of banana boxes stacked 8-per-layer) that they return about every week or so is returned on a regular truck, with no refridgeration.

Lynn Bodoni
06-12-2004, 10:19 AM
There are some stores that specialize in odd lots, discontinued products, and outdated foods. My mother-in-law used to shop at one of these stores. She was very proud of her thriftiness. I learned the hard way to never eat anything she offered, ever.

Out of curiousity, I went to the store that she bragged about finding. There were outdated dairy products (yogurt and cheese, mostly), ancient bottles of soda (Mello Yello, anyone?), a lot of candles which had partially melted, individual packets of condiments, and a huge open bin of dry dog food which was probably a rat's delight. See, when a huge bag of dog food breaks, they saved the stuff, and put it in this bin, so you had all sorts of dog food mixed up.

I wouldn't mind the ancient soda, but there's a REASON for expiration dates on most foods.

I used to work as a banquet server in college, and after the banquet, we were allowed to eat the unserved food. Since I lived and ate at home, this wasn't such a big deal for me, but I imagine that this made a big difference for a lot of the kids working those jobs.

06-12-2004, 11:12 AM
When we lived in Florida, we used to go to the day old bakery store and buy bread and other bakery goods. They stocked that store from the left over bread and goods from the markets. Day old bread is just as good and it cost us less than half the market price and it doesn't get stale in the days following purchase either.

06-12-2004, 11:22 AM
Most of the big grocery chains out here have huge enclosed compactors instead of dumpsters to keep people from diving for the mostly ok food. I work for a greeting card chain and even when seasonal plates and napkins are cycled out they get written off by a supervisor and tossed into the compactor. It really makes me sad because you could donate that to a school or church or something. It's not like someone's going to get sick off a napkin because it has snowflakes in July or something.

Johnny L.A.
06-12-2004, 11:27 AM
It made their pork pies even less appealing.
If you ever get me to eat a pork pie, I'll eat my hat!


06-12-2004, 11:37 AM
We've never been told specifically, but I believe the reason they don't give it to charities is because of liability problems if someone gets sick from the food.

When I worked for Dining Services at my college, this is the reason we were given as to why the food was not donated.

06-12-2004, 01:14 PM
Around here, older bread and stuff from Wonder and Entemanns goes to the local Wonder Bread outlet store. People can buy stuff that's about to expire for half off or so. (I freeze most of this stuff anyways, so it's very nice for me.)

06-12-2004, 01:21 PM
Our local food bank is very effecient at gathering and distributing unsellable food from stores and restaurants. However, unsold tofu is used as stucco in Happycats for Humanity homes. :D

06-12-2004, 02:10 PM
(Mello Yello, anyone?).

What's wrong with Mello Yello? I drink it if there's not any Sun-Drop handy.

06-12-2004, 02:51 PM
I worked for a major-chain supermarket while going to college, and we threw out tons of old bread. The managers let me take some home, and I used most of it to feed fish and turtles in a canal behind the house.

06-12-2004, 05:14 PM
I worked at a couple of restaurants back in college, and they all had a policy against employees taking perishable food home at the end of a shift. In particualar, I cut up the fresh salad greens at one of these places, and every day we threw out a few gallons of lettuce at the end of the day. I asked if I could bag up some of the greens and take them home to make a salad, and they said I couldn't.

The reason, they said, was that if you allow staff to take home unused food, they will make more than they need on purpose, to be sure they'll be something to take home.

06-12-2004, 06:32 PM
I recently volunteered at the Atlanta Food Bank, (http://www.acfb.org/) which was an amazing and educational experience. They act as a distributor to local food shelters and other charity groups around the state. Basically, it seems that the major grocery chains, smaller stores, distributors, and groups doing food drives and such ship boxes upon boxes to this place (banana boxes are used). We were part of a large group that sorted through the donations, throwing away foodstuffs that were past a certain date (we were told to go back a year for the sort date for most foods, as it is still ok). We also threw away dented and leaking cans, and repaired torn boxes. We would also sort the items into categories like canned food, stuff to drink, OTC drugs/cosmetics, paper products, etc. There were a lot of guidelines, and a lot of stuff was thrown away for various (and good) reasons. The sorted boxes would then be shipped to the smaller food pantries/shelters around the state. So that's what happens to some grocery store food that doesn't sell. I believe, as well, the Nash Finch company runs their own food reclamation centers for their stores.

As for prepared food, such as from restaurants and especially catering companies, the Atlanta Food Bank runs the Atlanta's Table (http://www.acfb.org/projects/atlantas_table/) program, which takes extra prepared food to soup kitchens that same day. Quite a program, and one of few, if not the only right now, that deals with prepared food on a large scale.

06-12-2004, 07:05 PM
The Pret A Manger (sorry, Flash site) (http://www.pret.com/flash.html) sandwich chain in the UK makes a virtue of the fact that it donates all unsold sandwiches to the homeless at the end of each day.

06-12-2004, 07:15 PM
I recently volunteered at the Atlanta Food Bank, (http://www.acfb.org/) which was an amazing and educational experience.

I've done a lot of donated time at the Austin Food Back which does exactly the same thing as the Atlanta Food Bank. The Austin Food Bank also has huge refrigerated rooms and freezer rooms for fresh produce and bakery products. they've got a system for sorting and distributing all the different food they get donated. I've also volunteered at the Salvation Army where I've spent time in the kitchen making bag lunches for the homeless out of donated food as well.

I think one reason so many stores don't donate food is that there may be no system to do so in their city. In Austin, the Food Bank makes it very convenient for business to donate.

Wesley Clark
06-12-2004, 08:28 PM
At the bakery i worked at by 8pm we would take all the doughnuts and put them in bags and sell them for $2 a bag. If nobody bought them by 2am we threw them in the trash. there were no homeless in the area but i would've given them to people had they wanted them.

06-12-2004, 08:55 PM
Is it 100% reused, or is it thrown away?

I'd imagine some of it goes to soup kitchens, some of it ends up as animal feed.

How much perishible food (i.e. bakery items, milk, fruits, veggies) is unsold?

Grocery and food service operations often operate on razor thin margins. Lots of heavy supply chain reasearch went into the world of food distribution over the last century. It is far from unknown for grocery stores to turn over their inventory value 30-50 times a year. JIT and lean techniques keep the shelves stocked while minimizing waste, since waste not only does not generate revenue, it costs extra to dispose of. If you ever have the time to dig a bit the forecasting models and FIFO handling for a grocery store are fascinating and intimidating stuff.

I just work in a remanufacturing environment, perishables scare me. :eek:

Little Nemo
06-12-2004, 09:21 PM
We used to buy truckloads of expired bakery products for use as pig feed. It was a pain because we had to spend so much time unwrapping everything as we threw it into the pen. But I can tell you that pigs love twinkies.

Troy McClure SF
06-12-2004, 09:57 PM
I used to work at Cala (Ralphs/Kroger) and everything that expired was either composted or trashed. Non-meat product ( I assume) was sent to our meat facilities, but I don't know for sure (and we changed meat companies several times. Everything else was trashed. We weren't allowed to give away, take home, or seel cheap anything. (I mean, we did, of course, but it was a no-no.)

06-12-2004, 11:01 PM
I work at a natural foods co-op and we rarely throw anything out. The employees get to take home about-to-turn produce and most outdated foodstuffs. It's the coolest job perk ever. I don't know what the legalities are if someone were to get sick, but I like that it gives the employees the agency to decide for themselves whether or not it would be a good idea to eat expired turkey sausages, or if maybe they should just be thrown away. Amazingly, we still get a steady clientelle of dumpster divers. God knows what they're eating.

However, I worked at a Cracker Barrel and at the end of the night they'd throw out pans and pans of meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, and dumplings. It was awful. The least they could have done was let us eat some after close. It would never occur to me to make more food than necessary in the deli of my co-op, even though I get to take home outdated salads and sandwiches. I just do what my boss tells me to do. Because I get treated like an adult, I guess, and not like a liability like big corporate places tend to treat employees.


Bambi Hassenpfeffer
06-12-2004, 11:14 PM
We discussed this a little here (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=249932). To quote myself:Most of our out-dated or close-dated bread and pastries goes to a local food bank. Our vendor-delivered products are the exception -- they go back to the vendor so they can sell them in the discount bakery stores. Everything else that goes out of date (cheese, meat, eggs, boxed dinners, pasta, etc. Almost everything, eventually) gets shipped back to corporate and eventually back to the manufacturer. Some of what is sent back can be donated, some must be thrown away. That's part of the reason for the grocery industry's 1% - 3% net profit margin.

As to elfbabe's comment: Because of liability issues surrounding dumpster diving, all of our trash goes into a compactor whose bin is locked and picked up weekly by the trash service. Honestly, everything that's still legal and safe to sell is sold and everything that's possible to donate is donated, so I don't feel too bad about what is thrown away.

06-13-2004, 01:47 AM
My dad owned a small town grocery. I was a grown woman before I knew that cheese came without green spots. ;)

06-13-2004, 02:14 AM
I don't know abut other fast food restaurants, but I used to work at this Taco Bell where the manager was a raging asshead. On a busy night, the amount of wasted lettuce, cheese, taco shells, meat, tomatoes, etc. that would be thrown out from garbage bag under the prep area grill was staggering - we're talking ten pounds or more, daily, of basically edible food. Not to mention orders set aside because someone messed up, like putting salsa on an order that wasn't supposed to have any.

Anyhow, I was new to the job, and I was the one daily throwing out all this food. The manager made me pour bleach in the bag and shake it up like a salad, so that "Those homeless bums won't be hanging around the store." I did it, too -- until one night when one of the so-called bums approached me with her two hungry kids wanting something to eat. I was so ashamed -- I promised her to just come back the next night and I'd do her a lot better.

So I went through this great pretense of pouring bleach in the bag and taking it to the dumpster, only I'd hand it off to this woman and her kids. This went on for a couple of weeks. Then one day -- my day off -- the homeless mother asked the girl who worked my shift where I was with the food when she took the trash out, and she told the manager what I'd been doing, and the asshead fired me the second I walked in the door the next day.

Ah. I was ready to quit that job anyway.

I found out years later the asshead manager was fired by the corprate office a few months after I was, for embezzling.

06-13-2004, 02:15 AM
Does anyone find it immeasurably depressing that our society has become such a litigious one, that feeding the hungry and homeless is a legal liability?

There just seems something so incredibly wrong about that.

06-13-2004, 02:59 AM
One chain of grocery stores around here advertises that if you find something with an expiry date of today or tomorrow, it's yours free.

Needless to say, this means that each store manager sends someone around every afternoon or evening to remove meat and dairy products that will expire the day after tomorrow :rolleyes:

All of this food - still safe to eat - was getting destroyed, until they got caught out and embarrassed on national television. Now, they put it in boxes in the cooler, and the Salvation Army sends volunteers around to pick it up and bring it to the distribution center.

Never underestimate the power of public embarrassment ;)

06-23-2004, 09:22 PM
Then one day -- my day off -- the homeless mother asked the girl who worked my shift where I was with the food when she took the trash out, and she told the manager what I'd been doing, and the asshead fired me the second I walked in the door the next day.

Notice you were sold out immediately by the person who benefited from your generosity.... can you just feel the mountains of gratitude.... :rolleyes:

06-23-2004, 09:41 PM
Good Lord, drachillix, at the risk of carting this thread off to GD or the Pit, do you really think this homeless family wanted to rat out their benefactor? They're homeless and hungry, for God's sake. And let's remember who actually squealed - not the homeless family, but her co-worker - someone who no doubt felt the same way about that family as the manager.

I am not surprised that food that cannot be sold gets thrown away and/or rendered inedible. I remember seeing something similar on TV in the late 70s or early 80s - if memory serves, on "Real People" of all shows - of a couple who weren't homeless but whho would dumpster dive for all the still edible but unsalable produce and baked goods and make meals for the homeless. They had evidence of grocery stores spraying their thrown away food with ammonia, and one scene had them being threatened with arrest for doing what they were doing.

"If we can't make money off it, you won't get fed"... and people wonder why I'm a Socialist.

sigh I do beg your pardon on this... I've got a belly full of Harpoon IPA. :D

06-23-2004, 10:06 PM
Usually bakeries would reduce the price (to half price) then throw it away if it still doesn't get sold. Sometimes poor people manage to get their food though. e.g. a few years ago I spent some time with some poor people. Late at night they went to the back door of the bakery and there was a garbage bag full of baking that looked perfectly good... so we took what we wanted.

BTW, when I worked at McDonald's in Australia, they're supposed to throw burgers away if they're more than 10 minutes old, and if it contains sliced tomato then they are supposed to throw it away after five minutes. If it is a slow night they might sell hour old burgers (on very rare occassions, if they're being slack).

06-23-2004, 10:25 PM
I know many supermarkets in my area that just throw out everything in the bakery that can't be saved (doughnuts, pies, french loaves, cakes, cookies) and it just goes right in the dumpster.

It's also the policy of Food Lion and Winn-Dixie (foodstore chains here in NC) to throw out EVERYTHING that's past it's expiration date. EVERYTHING.

Needless to say it's not all wasted, me and my friends eat like kings sometimes :D

06-24-2004, 05:32 AM
Old bakery products are fed to cattle where I'm from.

06-24-2004, 08:23 AM
About a year ago, I was driving around my suburb with my buddies around 10:30 at night, and we went into the local grocery to get some containers of ice cream. One of my friends spotted 5 or 6 perfectly good sheetcakes being thrown into a garbage bag and asked for them; "It's against code," they said, but I don't know if that's technically true or not. So we come back out and he decides to go look in the dumpster--"It's like searching for buried treasure"; cracks me up--because the cakes should be on top, after all. But it was padlocked. How disappointing :smack:

06-24-2004, 09:01 AM
Is it 100% reused, or is it thrown away?

I'd imagine some of it goes to soup kitchens, some of it ends up as animal feed.

How much perishible food (i.e. bakery items, milk, fruits, veggies) is unsold?

When I worked in a grocery store, which was about a total of 3 years, we pulled the unsold items to the back and got credit on it. Also worthy to note, I had a shiesty boss who would sometimes nail polish remover out before we opened up and remove the experation dates (especially on eggs) :rolleyes: As for bakery items, usually they were put on the top of the case or put out at a huge discount and would sell; if all of that failed they would just put them in the break room for the employees to snack on. Milk, we poured the milk down the drain and turned the empty containers back to the PF delivery guy for a credit. Fruits and veggies got chopped up and made into a salad or tray before they went totally bad. I know some of this sounds disgusting, but it's the honest truth. As to how much un sold there is, it all depends on the store. I worked in one that moved roughly 2K - 3K units/week, and I worked in one that moved about 5 times that. The ironic part was there was a lot less unsold items in the larger store. believe me on this fact, small stores are going to the a thing of the past

06-24-2004, 09:24 AM
At the supermarket I worked at the milk and juice were poured down the drain. The damages were returned for credit and the baked goods were thrown away. I don't know what they did in other departments as I didn't work in them.

They had a policy of allowing the employees to take home the damaged stuff and the day old stuff but people abused it. The stockers would damage extra things.

For a while we would give the baked goods to a local soup kitchen. They got picky about what they were getting (It wasn't consistent enough for them in either volume or variety) and sometimes they never came for their stuff so we stopped.

We were supposed to go out around 3pm and pick all the bakery stuff that was expiring the next day and mark it down. They never gave us enough hours though and this was usually low priority. We did have people who would rifle the shelves and bring stuff to us to markdown.

Always check dates on everything you buy! I got a 'promotion' and took over the HBC aisle. The first thing I needed to do was inventory. While doing so I happened to notice a couple of items that were past date. These were medicines like aspirin and various decongestants. I started looking more carefully. I found more. By the time I was done I presented my boss with a 3 foot square box of expired medicines. Some of these items were 4 years past their dates. Inventory was much easier with empty shelves but writing up all those returns sucked.

06-24-2004, 06:03 PM
My dad owned a small town grocery. I was a grown woman before I knew that cheese came without green spots. ;) My father & uncle operated a wholesale grocery supplier that handled, among other things, Red Star Baker's yeast. The drivers picked up expired packages, and brought them back to a box in the warehouse cooler. For 25 years, my mother used that outdated yeast in her baking (and she's a really good baker). It worked fine, she just had to use more yeast to make it rise.

Then they retired, and sold the business. So Mom had to buy new yeast at the store. The first time she baked bread with that yeast, she used the amount she always did with outdated yeast. Interisting results! I thought the rising bread was going to take over the kitchen! It rose so big it overflowed the mixing bowl and actually pushed the oven door open! It took a while for her to adjust to using new yeast!

And I too ate a lot of cheese with the green spots cut off, soup from dented (but not bulging) cans, food from torn boxes, etc. Never hurt my appetite any. :)

06-24-2004, 06:59 PM
Supermarkets throw away a lot of food long before the expiration date is passed just to make room on the shelves for the newly delivered food. They are generally willing to donate to food banks and shelters if the food bank staff will come and collect the food themselves, but the supermarkets won't pay to deliver the food to the food banks.

My mom regularly volunteers for a local food bank, driving from supermarket to supermarket to collect surplus food. She has to use her own car and pay for gas herself. Other volunteers work at the food bank to sort and shelve the food and throw out anything that is expired.

07-08-2004, 08:18 PM
Good Lord, drachillix, at the risk of carting this thread off to GD or the Pit, do you really think this homeless family wanted to rat out their benefactor?

I have seen something similar happen twice in my pizza days. Employee A was giving discounts to their friend X. Friend X comes in when employee A is not working demanding the same price that Employee A friend always gives them, even digging receipt. From a prior purchase out as evidence of the special deal they always get. Of course receipt is time and date stamped along with the cashier that was logged in. Employee A was promtly fired for his generosity.

They're homeless and hungry, for God's sake. And let's remember who actually squealed - not the homeless family, but her co-worker - someone who no doubt felt the same way about that family as the manager.

Businesses rarely view self styled robin hood employees, giving out freebies based on their personal whims rather than any policy, as good things. The employee who reported him did her job. Run a business for a while, a couple employees like her can save your ass a hundred times over.

If the homeless family in question was worried about Askia's generosity continuing they would have sought a meal elsewhere when he did not appear with the trash, I doubt it was the first time he missed a day in several weeks. Instead, they pointed out that someone else had been doing them this favor, expecting another employee to cave. If the homeless person in question had just asked for a hand out and left when rejected, Askia would not have been fired.

Before you start painting me as a heartless cretin, we did on several occasions in my pizza days give no show pizzas to homeless people that came in. Our manager only had one rule. If you recognize him, as someone you have a handout to before, the answer is no, even if you have a whole warmer full of no shows. This was to keep homeless people from seeing us as a steady meal ticket and coming in all the time. Exactly the situation that Askia ran into.

It seemed to work, no homeless people making regular appearances, and a few people in need got fed.

07-08-2004, 08:58 PM
My daughter has made several medical mission trips to Central America.
The pharmaceutical manufacturers via their distributers make out of date products available in very generous amounts for taking on these trips. Any leftovers from the clinics operated by the mission group is given to the hospital(s) in the city of departure.

The expiration date on medicals is conservative so no likelhood of problems.

07-08-2004, 10:34 PM
I forgot all about this thread.

A couple of clarifications.

1) Based on the personality of the homeless woman whom I gave food, I would be shocked if she "demanded" anything on my night off. She was a very humble type, fairly religious and always grateful for extra help ANYONE could give her. She told me she was staying at the woman's shelter farther down the street from Taco Bell but her meal allowance wasn't always enough for her and the kids. Granted, it could have happened they way drachillix suggested, but I tend to doubt it. She wasn't a pest. She never asked for money. The kids were cute.

2) The girl who sold me out to my asshat manager was an asshat, too. She could have refused the woman. She told on me because she wanted me to get fired or quit so she can have my hours. It worked.

3) To be perfectly fair to my asshat embezzling manager, he didn't really fire me on the spot. He asked my side of the story, warned me to stop doing it, and got up in my face. I refused to promise to "stop giving away the trash." (The way I put it) so then he fired me. He's still an asshat for the bleach.

4) I apologize to Dopers and moderators for overuse of the word "asshat" in connection with that anectdote.

5) I wouldn't help anyone homeless who came into the store begging for food -- especially men. It happened and I always refused. I have limits to my generosity and boundaries you don't overstep.

But there is still an enormous about of wasted food in this country.

07-09-2004, 11:44 AM
San Francisco has a program (http://www.sunsetscavenger.com/sf_green_toter.htm) where it collects food waste from businesses and homes so it can be composted and turned into soil, rather than eternally jammed into the landfills.

A division (http://www.jepsonprairieorganics.com/) of the local garbage service handles the composting and sells it to farms, vineyards, golf courses and the public.

07-09-2004, 12:36 PM
I remember when I was in highschool a lunchlady told me that all the food that the kids didn't eat was thrown away and could not be donated to any kind of charity because it was funded by the government and peoples taxes or something like that.

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