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Working in a grocery store, I have gained total access to the “EMPLOYEES ONLY” rooms in the facility. Of course customers pay no mind to what actually goes on behind these closed doors. Being on the other side, I’d be inhuman to not warn you of the things I’ve seen with my own two eyes. After everything I’ve seen, I’ve concluded that selling expired food and products back to a customer should not be allowed. It’s unhealthy, dangerous, and false advertising.
My job as a cashier was simple. I scanned and weighed your items, you complained about a couple of the prices, paid me for your groceries and went about your merry life. Every now and then you’d see an expired item on the shelf and we’d give it to you at a discounted price. No biggie. When business was slow, I would be pulled from my register to do other work needed around the store. I remember on Valentine’s Day, my manager had asked me to check the dates on all the cereals and juices. I did as I was told and after finishing the cereal I was already three carts full. As I began checking the juices, I realized there weren’t any expiration dates on any of the bottles. I questioned my manager about it and he said “Roger from receiving. He wants to kill the people. He wipes the expiration dates off with alcohol and put them back on the shelf.” I considered how psycho it was many times, but I didn’t realize how deep the situation was until recently; I was promoted to a scanner. This job was a bit different. I am now responsible for removing expired items off of the shelves. You’re probably thinking about how wonderful it is that my employers find it so important to remove these old foods as choices in your daily shopping activity. What they don’t tell you in what they do with these outdated foods. On April 4, 2016, I was told to check the expiration dates on all of the canned fruits, Jell-O, and puddings. I began my job for the day and to my surprise I was removing item after item from the shelves. These fruit cans labeled Delmonte and Oceanspray were dated back to almost a year ago. Sometime in early 2015. Delmonte and Oceanspray are “super-value” items and the store receives no credit for them so what they do with product is of their own discretion. That day I removed 80 cans of fruit and Jell-O from aisle 2. I was told to relocate the items to the deli. I recorded it in the expired items notebook and clocked out. On April 10, 2016, I was having lunch with my supervisor by the deli at my job and she questions “didn’t you remove a bunch of expired fruit the other day? They put it in the fruit cake.” I was as disgusted as you are reading this essay.
According to the FDA, companies can choose to exclude the expiration dates on their products. Whether or not consumers choose to buy these products is at their own discretion or in other words: proceed at your own risk. This rule could slip by when it comes to selling expired cans, but what about expired meat and fruits and vegetables? About eight months ago, CBC news interviewed a grocery store worker who went undercover to expose the way expired foods are handled. Mohammad Saffari was a bakery worker and for years he took expired cakes and pastries off the shelves, added fresh ingredients and placed the old food back onto the shelves. In some cases they cut the cake in half so they would last a couple days longer. Eventually this became sickening and he stopped showing up to work. After getting his manager to speak on the use of expired foods at his job, he began doing research on other grocery stores use of expired food. In the process he found that stores recycle just about anything that expired from eggs to meat to cans. Saffari learned that companies grind old and fresh meat together to make it appear fresher. They also dip browning meat into blood so that it “appeared redder.” In my store they wash it in water a pinch of bleach and sell it to be eaten that day. In some cases they even went as far as marinating the old meat is sauces to hide the smell of the rotting meat. As far as fruits and vegetables, it was as easy as cutting off the rotten parts and selling the fresher parts. As for the lettuce, they would sauté it. This allowed stores to change the “best before” dates on the packaging labels. I’m pretty sure that’s illegal and this could even be potentially dangerous. I witnessed this in the deli at my job. I was removing old cheese from display and the deli manager was furious. She wanted everything full and perfect for when James, the corporate manager, came in. She came to my cart and began snatching all the pre-sliced cheeses from me. She unwrapped the packaging, took it to the scale and printed out new labels. “It’s no expire,” she yelled in her thick Spanish accent. According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, food may change odor, taste, and appearance because of the existing spoilage bacteria. In this case, pathogens do become present and could cause foodborne illnesses. Therefore, selling expired food can be a danger to society.
Different products are labeled differently. It’s up to the consumer to know what each of the dates on the item means. Typically, you see four different phrases: “sell-by”, “best if used by (or before)”, “use- =by”, and “closed or coded dates”. The most common label is “sell-by”. This is advising you to buy the product before the expiration date. “Best if used by” is just a recommendation. This tells customers that the flavor will be best at that time; however if you choose to consume the product after that date your safety will not be at risk. Similarly, “use-by” is also a recommendation by the manufacturer of the actual product. And the last type of label, most common on single cereal cups and granola bars is the “closed or coded dates”. These are just labeled for the use of the manufacturer. There is no real expiration date, you must proceed at your own risk. Putting these items back on the shelf is a means of false advertising, but in the United States it is definitely not illegal. There’s no penalty for wiping of an expiration date and putting it back onto the shelves, something so common in the store I work at. Three months ago, a lady came into my job to buy rice and beans for her everyday dinner. I remember the brand because no one really buys them and I found it so odd. It was Iberia’s Navy Beans. She had been so excited to drive something different than her average black beans. As she was waiting for me to ring her up, she began checking the expiration dates just as a precaution, not that she expected to see any outrageous date or anything. To her surprise the beans were dated from December of 2014. That was 13 months old. She was disgusted and demanded the manager to see what she had seen. He apologized and assured her that he would take care of it. He sent me straight to aisle four to check the expiration dates for all the beans– bagged and canned. I removed a whole shelf of Navy Beans dating as far back as October 2014. I logged it down in the book of expired goods and handed the carts of beans over to Roger from receiving. Two days later when I came back into work, the shelves had been restocked with all types of beans: refried, black, red kidney, small pink, pigeon peas, and of course Navy Beans. The same ones I had just pulled off the shelf. Sure enough when I went to check for the expiration dates, there wasn’t any. And the same thing happens with the juices and the salad dressings and the tunas. Anything the store doesn’t get credit for is put right back into the shelves. This is how companies keep money in rotation because at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
So yes, selling expired food is frowned upon by the majority of people in the world today. Then why do companies continue to do it? In reality this all cycles back to money. A whole three pounds of chicken expires and a company loses ten dollars in a matter of seconds. One shelf of Iberia Navy Beans “expires” and store loses hundreds of dollars. Majority of these products receive no credit. In other words the companies they come from do not reimburse stores for the expired foods they are not able to sell. Therefore in order for stores to receive some type of money they sell it at discounted prices or use it to make food in their bakeries, delis, and kitchens. My job makes little boxes of candies, filled with Kit-Kats, Hershey’s Kisses, and Nestle chocolate, and sells them for 99 cents. Some stores even went as far as feeding their “out of date” foods to the homeless that hung around the store. Sam’s Club used to give away their rotisserie chicken every night to the homeless people in the neighborhood at 8:30 every night. Eventually people caught on and stopped buying the chicken and waiting until 8:30 to get it for free. Sam’s Club stopped this random act of kindness when they realized how much money they were losing (anonymous source). Just like Sam’s Club, Publix also began giving away food at the end of the day to the homeless. The food would be prepared earlier in the day and if no one bought it by the end of the night, Publix would give it away to the homeless people. Publix started receiving reports that their food was making people sick. Although the food had just been made that day, these people went as far as suing stores to receive a couple thousand dollars from what was only a generous act for the less fortunate people. Because of all the money they began losing, they too stopped giving away to the less fortunate.
Whether or not a food item had gone all depends on how it looks when you open it up. A friend of mine purchased a can of ravioli from a local Walmart and when she opened the can it was perfectly fine. After she poured it into the bowl she was able to see the black fuzzy substance at the bottom of the can. The can wasn’t expired and she probably would have lucked out with an expired can. Food can go bad at any time. A transportation truck could break down and all the meat would spoil way before it’s even supposed to go bad and a can that expired a month ago could be as good as a can that just left the manufacturer.
Is selling expired food really bad? Probably not. Does it make your stomach turn? It might. It’s not completely harmful. In some aspects, like selling 40 years old meat in China is completely dangerous, but you’ll probably be struck by lightning before you die from day old meat. Relabeling meat and cheeses after the expiration date is false advertising and definitely frowned upon. That’s something no one can argue, but as you now see it all webs out to money. This is how companies make sure they are making money in order to keep their store alive. Whether or not selling out of date food is bad completely depends on you.
“U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” Did You Know That a Store Can Sell Food past the Expiration Date? U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 04 Apr. 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. This website confirms that the FDA does not require companies to print expiration dates on their packaging labels.
Consumers must proceed with their purchase at their own discretion.
“Trader Joe’s Ex-President Opens Store With Aging Food And Cheap Meals.” NPR. NPR, 4 June 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. From this website, I learned about how the ex-president of Trader Joe’s planned to open a supermarket with out of date products that other companies had no use for.
Marketplace, Megan Griffith-Greene /. “Grocery Store Secrets: Best-before Dates Tampered With, Workers Claim.” CBC news. CBC/Radio Canada, 06 Nov. 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. This article shows the interview of Mohammad Saffari revealing the use of expired bakery goods in the store he worked at, along with how companies are able to sell expired meat way after their sell by dates.
“Your Apples Are A Year Old.” Food Renegade. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.
“Food Product Formulation.” Statistical Methods for Food Science (n.d.): 238-61. Web. This website gave information about expired produce items.
“Food Product Formulation.” Statistical Methods for Food Science (n.d.): 238-61. Aug. 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. In this article, I received clarification of the different packing labels used as expiration dates.
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