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Supermarkets throw away $2,300 worth of food every day

Remember when Web Watch told you about FOOD EXPIRATION DATES?  All about how you can determine the shelf life of food?

And then we told you that it wasn’t just food that could expire, but that COSMETICS HAVE EXPIRATION DATES too?

Well, you at home aren’t the only people who pay attention to the SELL BY, BEST BY, or USE BY dates that you find on your local supermarket products.

It should come as no surprise that the supermarkets themselves do the exact same thing.  And throwing out all that allegedly “expired” food costs each supermarket, on average, about $2,300.

Shelf Life: Supermarkets and the Changing Cultures of Consumption
Shelf Life:
Supermarkets and the Changing Cultures of Consumption

And it doesn’t have to be that way.

But we really do THROW OUT WAY MORE FOOD THAN WE SHOULD, according to an in-depth analysis.

The type of food and other products that gets tossed by your local supermarket include:

  • Expired “sell by” dated products
  • Damaged good, outdated promotional products, or unpopular items.
  • Prepared food that has been sitting out longer than the recommended time for “cooked” food… especially as the store gets closer to closing time.  One supermarket said that they throw out 50% of all rotisserie chickens that they prepare every day.

Think that’s bad?


And the reasons for this can range from not knowing how to utilize a specific food type, food that just spoils, poor planning/over-purchasing, making too much food for a given meal, or thrown out due to poor labeling.

And what type of food is most often thrown out for various reasons?  It runs the gamut – here’s a list of the TOP EIGHT FOODS THAT ARE THROWN AWAY from home and various businesses:

  1. Fresh fruits and vegetables leads the pack, at 22% of all food waste
  2. Dairy – 19%
  3. Meat, poultry, fish – 18%
  4. Grains – 14%
  5. Caloric sweeteners – 10%
  6. Processed fruit and vegetables – 8%
  7. Fats/oils – 7%
  8. Eggs – 2%

So let’s get back to those pesky “SELL BY”, “USE BY”, and “BEST BY” dates on the label.  What do they mean?

  • “SELL BY” is utterly useless. A consumer doesn’t care when the store needs to sell the product by, all we need to know is whether the food is still good or not.  You should be able to ignore a “SELL BY” date with relative safety.
  • “BEST BEFORE” pertains to the quality of the food you just purchased.  Rice Krispies have a relatively long shelf-life, but after a while they lose their Snap, Crackle, and Pop. Doesn’t mean that you can’t eat your favorite cereal treat, but you just may not enjoy it as much as you had when the box was first opened.  It’s “best before” a point in time, but still usable after that time.
  • “USE BY” is important as it does pertain to food safety.  For example, milk or eggs past their “use by” date run a greater risk of spoilage or causing illness.  You may want to pay attention to this date.

So what should you do at home to stop throwing out perfectly good food?

Be more wise about how you utilize ingredients and your shopping list.  Don’t over-purchase, “just because”.  Try making smaller portions.  It’s all about paying attention to your pantry, refrigerator, freezer.  Try digging out once in a while and making use of what’s there first, rather than just tossing things out because you weren’t paying attention.   Over time, you’ll find yourself saving a bit of money as you eat smarter — and there’s nothing wrong with that.