Here’s a pair of statistics that don’t make sense:
One in five Americans suffers from food insecurity, which means they don’t have consistent access to enough nutritious food.
Every year American supermarkets and grocery stores throw out 10 billion pounds of food, most of which is just fine to eat.
Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, wants to reclaim that discarded food. He plans to open grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods that sell perishable foods that are at or near their expiration dates.
At first the concept has an elitist ‘Let them eat cake!’ ring to it.
It’s not good enough for us, so let’s pawn it off on them.
But the idea is not without merit. And precedent. Think of Goodwill stores that rack up a few billion dollars in annual sales of discarded clothing and household items, and do so in a perfectly respectable and respectful manner.
Americans waste a lot of food—more than 40% of all we produce.
Behind the scenes and after hours, your local supermarket is still buzzing with activity. Employees strip the shelves of brown bananas and misshapen potatoes that customers pass over. The out-of-date yogurt cartons, dented cans, and damaged packaging can go right in the dumpster. They also remove packaged foods approaching their expiration dates—still perfectly good, but who’s going to buy a 5-pound block of cheese with 3 days left?
Expiration dating gives the consumer a sense of a security, but it’s not usually tied to spoilage.
Most expiration dates refer to the point when a product’s taste, texture, color, or nutritional benefits start to deteriorate rather than the point when you need to worry about the product’s safety. Except for infant formula and certain baby foods freshness dating isn’t required by law, and federal watchdog agencies like the FDA and USDA stay out of it. Some states require dating for dairy products, but there is no agreement or uniformity for freshness standards. For all other foods, labeling is voluntary. Producers can choose to slap on expiration dates that are pretty much of their choosing, and except for dairy products and formula, the retailers are free to keep the expired products on their store shelves.
Mr. Rauch is funding the not-for-profit project with much of his own money. He has started hiring for the first store set to open in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The store’s kitchen will create healthy prepared takeout foods that are price-competitive with fast food meals, and there will also be an in-store kitchen offering low-fat cooking classes and workshops. That’s because food insecurity in America is not about empty stomachs but empty calories.
Learn more about why we create so much food waste and why it matters at the Wasted Food website.