There is nothing inedible or unsafe about food that is just days past its expiration date, experts say.
For some people, expiration dates on food are gospel. For others, it is a warning. For still others, it is more like a yellow traffic light.
For Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, it’s a way to feed the world’s disadvantaged people.
According to a study from the Harvard Food Law and Policy Center and the National Resources Defense Council, approximately $165 billion worth of food is thrown out annually because they outlast their expiration date. According to the report authors, this is the same thing as wasting food, because expiration dates on almost all food have no scientific basis.
“The big take-away from our study is really, these dates are not regulated and most people think that they have meaning, but in fact, at the federal level, the only food that has rules about date-labels is infant formula,’’ said Emily Broad Leib, director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Center. “Everything else is made up by states and by companies, there’s really no legal definition around them.”
The study says that labeling such as “sell by’, ‘use by’ or best by’ are used more for inventory or quality control than safety. “Sell by’’, for instance, is a way for manufacturers to move product off the shelves to make room for new product, even though there is nothing unsafe about the earlier product.
According to a study in the Washington Post, 91 percent of Americans toss some food because it is past its “expiration date’’ and 25 percent of consumers say they always do. But Harvard Food Law and Policy Center said there is no federal requirement that food be labeled based on expiration with the exception of baby food and formula.
Dana Gunders of the National Resources Defense Council said “it costs manufacturers money, and it costs consumers money. It leads us to throw food away unnecessarily.”
Rauch, the former Trader Joe’s executive, wants to do something with that food.
Rauch wants to repackage the food that is past its sell-by dates, and he plans on selling that food in a new market, the Daily Table, he will be opening in Dorchester, Mass. in 2014. The food will be cooked and then sold at discounted prices, Rauch said.
In an interview with National Public Radio, Rauch explains his plans for “expired’’ food.
“It’s the idea about how to bring affordable nutrition to the under-served in our cities,’’ Rauch said. “It basically tries to utilize the 40 percent of this food that is wasted. (We) bring this food down into a retail environment where it can become affordable nutrition.”
Rauch said some farms or growers will throw away perfectly edible healthy food because it is “cosmetically blemished.”
At his first eatery, Rauch said he will take in “expired” food, prepare it and cook it, then offer it at fast-food prices or below.
“Food banks for years have done this,’’ Rauch said. “One of the leading best-regarded brands in the large, national food industry … recover the food within their stores, cook it up and put it out on their hot trays the next day. That’s the stuff that we’re going to be talking about. Most of what we offer will be fruits and vegetables that have a use-by date on it that’s several days out.”
Rauch said he wants to open his restaurants in under-served areas of American inner cities.
“This is about trying to tackle a very large social challenge we have,’’ he said. “I don’t regard Daily Table as the only solution, but I certainly think it is part of and is an innovative approach to trying to find our way to a solution.”
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.