Grocery store throws out a ton of food after power outage

Yesterday in the Washington, DC area, there were bad thunderstorms all day. There were power outages all over the region.

Tonight I went to the Safeway and noticed that all the refrigerated sections were completely empty. The power had gone out in the store and they are having to throw away EVERYTHING from the refrigerated sections (dairy, deli, ice cream, etc.) Workers had shopping carts filled with garbage bags full of food.

Now, I am not sure how long the power was out in the store. And I guess they had no choice. But I just can’t help but think of all that wasted food! Especially now, when food prices are going up. You would think the grocery store would have a heavy duty generator for circumstances like this.

Anyway, it just seems like such a shame! In addition, there are still thousands of homes in the area without power, so think of all the food people are losing. Bummer.

At the end of each day, Safeway has to throw away all its pastries in the bakery section so they can restock it with fresh items the next morning. If you happen to catch them in the process of tossing stuff and ask for a donut, they’ll refuse to hand it over, despite the fact that they’re just throwing it away. I know it’s store policy that they can’t give stuff away for free, but if they’re just throwing it in the trash, what difference does it make? I know I could just follow the guy out to the dumpster and claim my donuts there, but it’s the principle of the thing.

My guess, from related experience in convenience stores, is that there can be NO POSSIBLE liability against the store, in the case that you get sick from an expired pastry. Yeah, they’re not poisonous all of a sudden at midnight, but if they give you one that they should have thrown away, and you get sick, they’re fucked. We had to toss all hot dogs 2 hours after they were prepared. Sure, they were not fresh, but also not dangerous. And sure, the homeless people in the neighborhood would have loved them. But we had to toss 'em, and make the homeless dumpster dive.

I’ve read of grocery stores tossing old bread, and poisoning it, or doing something to make it inedible, locking the dumpsters, and posting biohazard warnings near the dumpsters, simply in fear of such an occurrence. Could be apocryphal, not interested in looking up a cite.


During power outages the employees of the store I worked at monitored the temperature of perishables. After unsafe temperatures were reached the product was destroyed. Spoiled is unacceptable to consume regardless of how much is wasted. A back up system capable of running the freezers would be prohibitively expensive in an area that has reliable power. Many stores are barely able to stay open. This would be covered on the insurance policy. Sometimes the stores actually give away product they know is going to go bad, before it does. Here you go, have some ice cream our freezer died.

I went into a store that was closing once and the meat was spoiling. We could barely stand to grab snack foods and get out. There wasn’t another store for 50 miles, and we were starved.

I wonder why they can’t donate this to local homeless shelters/soup kitchens. Donuts made on Thursday morning aren’t going to be “spoiled” or bad to eat on Friday morning. It takes several days at least for baked goods to become stale or moldy. This is sad!

Liability I suppose. The legal guys won;t let them give away potentially dangerous items.

It is all about liability.
I work for a MegaHell, in the bakery/produce and cheese. If a product is marked that it has to be sold by June 6th, that means it has to be off the shelves by June 6th 1159pm. So, on June 5th in the evening ( 6-9pm) it is pulled from the shelves and marked down and put on a special Day Old rack to encourage sales. This rack is the Mecca for seniors and tightwads.

If it isn’t sold, it is written off and tossed in the garabe bin.

I have personally thrown out $300-500 worth of product in one session. These numbers are very high and usually occur a couple days after a big holiday. Christmas and New Years are the biggest. Surprisingly, fruitcake bars sell well.

They use to donate it to a variety of local charities, but all it takes is one greedy so and so to say something was messed up with it and then sue to ruin everything. It has happened in the past.

Our loss ranges between $100 to 200 a day. Monday and Tuesdays ( with the leftovers from the weekend.) are the highest. It is hard to predict what the herd of zombie shoppers want from one weekend to the next weekend. ( Except booze and beer. That sells really well.)

It use to sicken me to see such waste. Then you realize the reason alot of this stuff is unsold is that there are either products that are new to the store that the customers haven’t discovered yet, or The Powers That Be say that WE MUST PUT OUT X AMOUNT OF WHATEVER BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT ALL THE STORES ARE DOING FOR THIS AMAZING SALE TO INTRODUCE A NEW AND AMAZING PRODUCT THAT TASTE LIKE PETRIFIED DONKEYBALLS.( despite our store doesn’t have the traffic/demographic/numbers of a store that is in a bigger city.) so what is unsold gets tossed.

The thing that kills me is the stuff that is a consistent seller tastes like shit. Perservative riddled baked goods.(and 93% of the stuff in the snack aisle.) Just nasty. The stuff that has flavor just sits there until you make a gentle suggestion to a zombie that “this has an old fashioned flavor just like Grandma’s baking…” and then ZING you have a customer that lurves it.

I happened to visit a Kroger that had just had a freezer failure; everything was some absurd percent off… every customer had heaping carts of goodies-- I filled a cart to overflowing with typically expensive vegetarian treats, which should have cost several hundred dollars, and IIRC it was under $50. I ate like a king for quite a while.

Our local Shop Rite has it own backup generator. The amount of business they did during the big blackout of 2003 must have more than paid for it.

I was in there during a thunderstorm when the power went out. The backup lights are very very bright and freaky.

I have a backup generator for our 2 freezers at home. I’m flummoxed as to why a store (especially in our t-storm prone area) wouldn’t have one.

When I worked in the food biz, the stated reason for tossing everything at night (as opposed to giveaways) was to prevent workers from preparing enough overage to handout to their families in the evening. The idea was to make extra food a chore for us, so we’d try to match supply with demand.

I worked briefly in an in-store bakery in a large chain supermarket. Each morning we would pull off all of the stock that was reaching its sell-by date that day and seperate it into two bins. Things that needed to be refrigerated (certain cakes, etc) and crusty breads (they get stale super fast) would be sent to the dumpster along with the donuts and muffins (they had been sitting in bins all day and night, getting stale and potentially touched by customers). Breads and cookies in sealed bags and cakes that didn’t need to stay cool were donated to an area food bank, along with packaged goods and produce from the rest of the store. This was, however a store with certain “upscale” pretensions and as such didn’t do the “marked down because it’s about to go bad” thing- they just gave it away when it got to that point. As far as the donuts and other things that were thrown away, the policy was that if we wouldn’t sell it to a customer, we weren’t going to expect the food bank to want it. A donut isn’t going to help anybody out who is truly hungry, but a nice loaf of wheat bread in a bag just might.

Indeed- that’s why my store only sent out items that still had a day on the tag- things that we would feel confident selling to customers but not quite as fresh. Certainly not donuts that had been in the bin overnight!

We did take any particularly nice cakes that were on the chopping block (having cream cheese icing or whatnot) up to the break room, where the 200 hungry high school checkers would make short work of it.

In the end, the bigwigs were a lot more concerned about the possibility of a customer (paying or at the food bank) getting a moldy or contaminated product than they were about the waste. That was a wonderful store to shop at, not even very expensive (perhaps a bit higher than a Safeway, but nowhere near Whole Foods) and I got spoiled. I was incredibly shocked the first time I got a bag of rolls from another store that was moldy a day after I bought it- I’d never even considered that the store would let product go out so close to spoiling!

pullin has a point, as well. You don’t want employees to have a reason to put out too much product. That’s why the still-OK food went to the food bank, not home with employees. It was made abundantly clear to me from my first day that taking home expired food was just as bad as taking something off the shelf- STEALING!!

As far as the lack of backup generators, maybe they failed? Or perhaps they just didn’t think the risk was big enough to justify the cost and got pinched. Everybody screws up sometimes.

We used to live near a Korean grocery store that had the most amazing fresh, wonderful produce, and each night the workers would carefully put the no-longer-saleable produce out on the back steps for the local herd of deer. Then every morning at oh-dark-thirty, as Papa Tiger left for work, he’d have to wait the herd of deer to cross our little road on their way to breakfast at the store.

We don’t have a backup generator for our home freezer, but Papa Tiger lived for years on Guam, where lengthy power outages were a regular thing after typhoons, so when we lived in hurricane country, we would freeze several gallon jugs of water and leave them scattered through the freezer. We once lost power for three days and didn’t lose a penny’s worth of food; everything was still frozen solid. That’s a useful trick for a home freezer, even if it won’t work for a store.

I’m sure liability is the biggie here, but I have also heard (no cite, sorry) that the likes of McDonald’s don’t do it because of its effect on “brand image” (you can’t have bums eating Quarter Pounders, as that simply WILL NOT DO!).

I once saw a program on Oprah about “freegans”–people who live as cheaply as possible. They go dumpster diving at grocery stores to eat for free. I did that when poor and homeless, and I cannot image anyone doing it voluntarily.

Yeah, Freeganism has had quite a few articles written on it recently. MSNBC, Wall Street Journal and NYT all wrote up pieces on it.

I’m sure liability is one issue in throwing everything away, but I think the bigger issue is that they’re in business to make money, not give away food. If people learn that every day at 11:45pm this store just starts giving away “perfectly good” food, then why in the world would they pay for it at 11:44pm (or any time before for that matter)?

It doesn’t hurt to ask, though. I used to work in the deli/bakery of a supermarket, and yes, while most expired stuff went into the trash (or home with us), if there was a homeless guy out front, or if someone asked nicely, we’d hook them up. I mean, we certainly didn’t want to toss it, either. I depends on the employee and the Big-Brother-ness of whoever else is working that night.

I worked for a bagel place and we would bag up all the leftover bagels at the end of the day. The guy who worked at the local food bank would come to our store to pick those bagels up every single day.

Now I work for a non-profit organization and every once in awhile we will get a call from the local Shop Rite or Wegmanns because they have too many pastries, desserts, whatever leftover and they want to donate them. Last year Wegmanns gave each of our group homes 8 fully prepared Thanksgiving dinners because they had made too many and didn’t want to throw them out. I think that’s the right way to get rid of food!

There are a couple ways to back up the refrigeration systems, and none are cheap or simple.

If the area has generally reliable power, the store has probably taken the approach that chucking the inventory after a lengthy power outage that only happens every two or three years is cheaper than installing and maintaining backup systems.

I doubt it. McDonald’s doesn’t give away old food because there seldom is any “old food” left. Many restaurants are busy to the point that anything that is made is almost immediately snatched up and paid for and eaten. The only burgers and sandwiches that are ever thrown out are ones that were custom-made incorrectly or ones that got smooshed or fell on the ground. And these throwaways get carefully inventoried by management. I’ve seen no more than 2-3 of these per day.

The only foods I’ve ever seen last the day at McD’s are the salads, and those were returned to the giant walk-in freezer.

Finally, if you saw some of the customers we had, you would understand why it’s laughable to suggest there are customers McD’s doesn’t want to be seen eating their food. We served anybody with money, and we gave free coffee “refills” to anyone brandishing a McD’s coffee cup. We did not discriminate against stench or high degrees of dishevelment.