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Store Sets Out to Only Sell Expired Food

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Family, this has me feeling some type of way.

For starters, “just a day or two old” is a wee bit dishonest, here. It ignores the fact that this stuff has been sitting on shelves for years long before it even came out to be sold. Almost all processed food is this way. If you’ve ever looked at the expiration date on processed food while still in the store, you’ll notice the expiration date is years into the future. To imply that this date, years into the future, is the one to which the food is still good… is unfairly inaccurate. It’s not that the food is “still good” to this date, this is just the date by which the manufacturer can estimate the food won’t kill you. There’s a huge difference between the two.

Woman buying groceries from expired food store

I’m looking at the woman who is making her case for why she shops there – “So what? It’s still edible!” – and, trust me, there’s no judgment. I know what it’s like to have limited funds and feel the need to focus on being belly-filled first and put other things like freshness aside as a luxury. But that, in my mind, is the problem – we’re apparently at a point in society where “freshness” is now a luxury. People are so focused on stretching their coins as far as possible, that now we have to forego everything we’ve learned about expiration dates and sell-by dates in order to adequately feed our families. I don’t know how that can make anyone feel anything other than sad, especially considering what Congress is doing to food stamps/SNAP in general.

There was little focus on the actual food, for some reason, merely the fact that people found this outrageous. Well, duh. But there were clips of produce in this store. Why? Is the produce rotting, too? Is the produce spotty and molding? Or is the produce fresh, and everything else is expired? What about meat? Is the meat actually what it’s supposed to be? One of my oldest stories is, in the middle of walking Mini-me and my nephew home one day, we stopped at a street market and picked up a few peaches for them to eat on the walk home. As my daughter bit into hers, it dissolved into a pale, frothy, unpleasant mush. The glory of peaches… ruined, for this child. The experience of watching this happen… ruined peaches for my nephew. Buying expired foods does that for children – you have to explain to them that, although this experience was disgusting, there’s always another peach! There’s always another store!

But what if you live in an area where these kinds of stores are the only stores you’ve got? What happens then? What happens when, after a lifetime of experiences of biting into rotten produce, you grow up into an adult that “hates vegetables” and “has a texture problem?”

In Melanie Warner’s book, Pandora’s Lunchbox, she opened the book with a story of how she kept a tub of guacamole for almost nine whole months, accidentally had a family member eat it who was still fine, and went on to research why. Aside from the fact that I cannot imagine eating anything that’s been in my fridge for over two months, let alone nine, I also can’t help but wonder what the nutrition is like for something that’s been sitting for so long.

It’s a long-known fact that processed food contains synthetic materials that account for the “nutrition” in them, with vitamins coming everywhere from sheep’s wool to a science lab to make up for what’s missing in processed food. Now, I’m curious – vitamin pills have expiration dates; do the expiration dates in processed food match up with the expiration dates of the vitamins and minerals inside?

And, lastly… all I keep thinking about is the stores in the hood that sell literally rotting food – not “good, but past the expiration date” but actually rotting produce:



…or merely hiding the rotting parts by strategically placing everything in cellophane and styrofoam, like I saw at an East New York, Brooklyn store I visited. There’s definite mold on those tomatoes. Mold. Mold that has accumulated from OTHER tomatoes that have rotted so severely that they’ve dissolved into piles of sticky goo.

I must ask, how do the prices at this store compare to stores like these, where everything is rotting away anyway, and it’s all still full price?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve bought produce that was soft around the edge before, but that’s because I believe many people are throwing their food away too fast, anyway. But. When

Would you shop there?

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Trina February 3, 2014 - 4:05 PM

Bread is often consumed a few days past the dates on the package in my home so I’m OK with people eating “day-old” items in general. However when I learned that the Daily Table will be a nonprofit and the planned location is in a low income area I wanted to hit something. So this guy will receive food for free and sale that foods to low income people who already struggle to find affordable quality food. WTF. The “donor” stores get a tax right off for items they were going to throw out and the owner of the Daily Table gets richer. This doesn’t seem right and I wouldn’t buy anything from them.

Diatta Harris February 3, 2014 - 5:13 PM

Ummmm, I feel some type of way too! This is GROSS, unethical and filthy. How can anyone set out with this type of intention? Just makes no sense.

BOOP February 4, 2014 - 4:29 PM

Whats the alternative though? And personally I don’t mind so much that he’s charging. He’s the middle man going to these places asking for food. And if someone is willing to pay for the convenience of that- ok. Plus he racks up expenses too, I don’t see this as a money grabbing scheme. Its sad, and maybe I’m misunderstanding who the article is attacking/questioning, but if no alternative is available then why not make do? Conversely he has people buying the food knowing its rot, so what’s the problem, besides the abhorrent fact that freshness, as Erica stated, has become a luxury? I can afford to eat better so I wouldn’t shop there nor eat expired food, but I’m not knocking his work.

Keeshond February 5, 2014 - 10:11 AM

What about food poisoning , diarrhea or other digestive issues caused by eating rotten food. This is nasty. What about getting people to donate their food.

Ebony February 5, 2014 - 2:08 PM

I would shop there, but only for dry and canned goods. I’ve seen vacuum sealed foods last a very long time. Fresh produce is important to have to get all the vitamins and minerals from the vegetable. Correct me if I am wrong, but fruits and vegetables spend a week or more on trucks or boats before reaching the grocery store.(Which is why I bought an avocado that I though was nice and ripe but it had mold spots under the skin and it was full price.) Unless you buy your fruits and veggies from the farmers market this shouldn’t be an issue. Which in my opinion is very wise.

L. February 6, 2014 - 5:50 PM

I can’t help feeling that eating a large amount of food that is technically expired will exacerbate the health problems that this low income community already faces. I’m also disgusted that this guy is SELLING expired food that he got as a FREE charitable donation. How is that legal? If it’s a non-profit he should be DONATING that expired food like many food banks ALREADY do. He’s co-opting the work CURRENTLY being done by community food-aid organizations and using it to turn a profit. So are the grocery stores using this scheme to get a tax deduction. The corporations benefit, but what about the low income consumer who already has limited options? This seems exploitative. And why ISN’T there government regulation on the sell by dates on food, so that we can take the guess work out of when it’s truly inedible and what we are eating if we DO consume food past it’s expiry date? Maybe there should be two categories labeled on foods, like a “best-by-date” when it is at it’s best, nutritionally and taste-wise, and an “edible-by-date” when it cannot be safely consumed anymore. We truly don’t know what the chemicals in processed food will turn into if we eat it past it’s sell by date when it’s still “edible”.

I’m also repulsed by the rotting produce sold at full price in that Brooklyn grocery store. It’s absurd that grocers would try to mask the condition of full-priced putrefying, rotted food with cellophane. Besides being completely unethical, isn’t that illegal?

LadySappho February 14, 2014 - 3:39 AM

You’ve misunderstood the point of best before, sell by, and use by dates and this sort of misunderstanding which is a major cause of domestic food waste. The dates are not ‘the date by which the manufacturer can estimate the food won’t kill you.’
‘A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
‘A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
‘A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.’
Most products, if correctly stored, will be fine for consumption even past a “use-by” label – and that’s even more the case with a “best before” date.
In terms of it being a money-making enterprise, from what I’ve read, the plan is that the supermarket will sell products for about half price and the design is for it to be self sustaining. While he doesn’t have to pay for the produce, there will be workers, rent, and other sundry costs to cover. This seems to me to be a net good. It should increase the affordable food options for people in the local area (not all of whom may be eligible for, or want to use, food banks and the like; it will provide employment in the area; and it will help reduce the amount of food waste.
In terms of fresh produce, again from what I’ve read elsewhere, I believe that he plans to sell not “rotting” food (seriously, when you see that, take it up with management!) but food which is cosmetically unappealing. The amount of food rejected by retailers for purely cosmetic reasons is appalling.

Erika Nicole Kendall February 14, 2014 - 10:57 AM

I have to tell you, “you’ve misunderstood” is quite possibly one of the top-10 most passive aggressive ways to insult someone. It’s possible that they’ve simply not “misunderstood” at all, and to declare as much is an insult. There are countless ways to intimate that you’ve come to a different conclusion than someone else without telling them theonly way they could’ve reached that particular conclusion is if they’ve “misunderstood.” It’s hard to take you seriously after that.

Yet and still…

There’s a difference between how something exists in theory, and how it is expressed in practice. That being said, linking me to FSIS isn’t helpful. FSIS doesn’t have inspectors in every store, in every manufacturing plant, and every single box, package or cow isn’t checked. If we don’t focus on praxis and how closely it mirrors the idyllic system, we fail before we start. (As an aside, this is why “take it up with management!” isn’t helpful when it comes to these kinds of stories. Oftentimes, management bonuses are incentivized to keep food costs down.)

“Most products, if correctly stored, will be fine for consumption even past a “use-by” label – and that’s even more the case with a “best before” date.”

I don’t doubt this, but again – in practice – I question what this means in terms of nutrition, in terms of taste, and in terms of what happens to individual people when they have bad experiences with it. Many people grow up unwilling to buy fresh produce because all they were exposed to as kids was Mom dealing with rotting food and trying to make magic happen.

Again. Praxis.

And, in terms of that Healthland post you linked me to, I actually wrote about that a while back. That speaks to things like finding stuff you’ve already bought developing mold on it. That’s not about buying it from the store, where it has likely already sat in a storage facility for weeks – in some cases, months – before being put on the shelf. Again, how things happen in practice and how they “theoretically” happen are two different things.

LadySappho February 14, 2014 - 6:48 PM

>>> I have to tell you, “you’ve misunderstood” is quite possibly one of the top-10 most passive aggressive ways to insult someone. >>>

I apologise. It was not my intention to be insulting. I read what you wrote and it seemed to me that it contained a common misunderstanding. I work in the food industry and I hear that sort of claim very commonly. As a rule, the person HAS misunderstood the state of affairs with dates.

I write as a person who often and happily buys “expired” food. Heck, I’d be willing to dumpster dive if I knew where to go and didn’t work nights. There is a vast amount of food waste – and waste of perfectly edible, healthy, nutritious food – in both your country and mine (I’m Australian) and I encourage people to come up with innovative ways to handle that – whether it’s donations which are given to people on benefits or a shop which sells food which has been rejected by the supermarkets but it still perfectly edible.

Reading a range of stories about this particular initiative, I think he’s got a good plan. He’s very clear that they won’t be selling rotting food – and, as you’ve pointed out, that can happen when one pays full retail, too. He talks, for example, about staff sorting through berries to ensure that there is nothing with mould and then packaging up and selling the best quality of what they have. The seconds, still edible and nutritious, will be cooked and sold that way. He also talks about supermarkets which have the wrong thing delivered but it is unreturnable so they’ll ditch the product even though it’s perfectly fine to eat. I have some sympathy for that. In my shop, I’ve had that happen a couple of times. Once the bag is opened, the supplier generally won’t (and one can’t blame them) take it back, particularly if the order was my fault and not theirs. Now, other than eggs, I’m not dealing with fresh produce but I can see how it could happen that the retailer has excellent produce that they can’t sell.

I also know that supermarkets are extremely fussy about the cosmetic appearance of fruit and vegetables (sadly, even over taste and nutrition) so a vast amount of produce doesn’t even make it out of the farmer’s field. They just can’t sell it.


Erika Nicole Kendall February 14, 2014 - 9:06 PM

I appreciate your apology, and I apologize as well. I was particularly unpleasant, myself, in my response.

I think the book The American Way of Eating sheds a little light on why I have such an non-supportive stance on this, even though I can acknowledge the business savvy involved. That book sheds a lot of light on the journey that, say, a peach makes from the farm to the shelves, so I completely understand what you’re getting at – but this conversation focuses too much on the business end and not enough on the consumer end which, for me, is far more important. When companies find ways to “save money,” we have to ensure that its not at the expense of the consumer’s best interests, which is why I think that interrogating this is important.

LadySappho February 15, 2014 - 8:25 AM

We’re definitely cool!

I don’t know the book you’ve mentioned but I suspect I understand the concept of it.

I am interested in the potential consumers for this store – in fact, if it was in my area, I’d probably be one of them. I have no problem with interrogating the idea but I don’t think that there’s anything here being done at the expense of the consumer. I’ve bought really nasty food at full retail and I’ve bought excellent expired food bargains. At the moment, it’s almost the only way we eat meat at all and if we could find fruit and vegetables that way, we’d probably be interested too.

The store is going to live or die on the quality of what they put out. Expecting the cosmetically perfect (and often flavourless, but I digress) produce of the conventional supermarkets is unreasonable but it IS reasonable to expect that the food will be in good, edible condition. If the food is mouldy, it’s not a bargain (and, yes, that’s happened to me – and it’s not always expired food at that.


Erika Nicole Kendall February 17, 2014 - 5:45 PM

“The store is going to live or die on the quality of what they put out.”

I don’t know about this. I see stores, all the time – the one whose produce I photographed above, for starters – who don’t put out quality, but because the price is affordable enough for someone who can’t afford to be choosy – literally, fresh produce becomes a luxury at a certain point – they will willing deal with it. The location of the store, in my mind, and whether or not its in a food desert will determine that.

I think this conversation also makes me wonder whether or not we should be revamping our understanding of expiration and whether or not what we have is effective. Or, even, whether or not we should trust these dates on the label more than we trust our own eyes.

LadySappho February 14, 2014 - 3:44 AM

Bother the lack of an edit option! I didn’t close a parenthesis (not a big deal) and I forgot the link for the information about dates.
While I’m at it, here’s an interesting article on food dates.

LadySappho February 19, 2014 - 4:03 PM

‘I think this conversation also makes me wonder whether or not we should be revamping our understanding of expiration and whether or not what we have is effective. Or, even, whether or not we should trust these dates on the label more than we trust our own eyes.’

Oh, absolutely! Go with the eyes and the nose before trusting what the retailer or manufacturer tells you. In the States, expiration labels are not always legally mandated and in Australia they aren’t for many items. Most of what I sell, I can put out without expiration dates (loose products like beans, nuts, grains) and fresh produce never requires it here.

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