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Lifting the Lid: How Grocery Stores Get Rid of Expired Food - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Lifting the Lid: How Grocery Stores Get Rid of Expired Food

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We are learning more about how grocery stores get rid of expired food. Tons of food makes its way into supermarkets daily, but not all of it is purchased. Thanks to some key changes over the years, stores are making use of more and throwing away less.

Ideally, grocery stores want to get rid of food before it expires. But when that doesn't happen, the food is often still useful. Better packaging and a post expiration date grace period are just a few examples of how food avoids the garbage, and has a better chance of being used.

"Well when we find a product that's out of date, we'll hopefully catch it before it's completely out of date and try to lower the price at that point and get it out of here right away," said Reid Super-Save Market manager Kim Miller.

At Reid Super-Save Market in Charlottesville, making sure food doesn't end up in the waste basket is part of a science. Miller says longer expiration dates have made all the difference when it comes to saving more and dumping less.

"Readable dates. You run across very few products where the customers can't tell what the date is now. Used to be a lot of codes and digits and numbers that no one knew what the dates were, but it's gotten so everybody can tell what date is on a product now," Miller said.

Many canned items are often dated with a shelf life of two and three years. But there is still another way to keep food from going to the garbage. If it isn't sold, it can also be donated.

Blue Ridge Area Food Bank CEO Larry Zippin said, "The date best used by on the top doesn't mean the day after it's no good. And as a matter of fact, most manufacturers of food have a grace period following the expiration date where it's still safe to consume that food."

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with the exception of infant formula, its laws do not exclude the sale of food that is past the expiration date indicated on the label.

In fact, the FDA does not require "expired by," "use by," or "best before" dates on food products. It's entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer.

At the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, supermarket donations play a big part in its mission.

"About 80 percent of locally donated food comes largely from supermarkets and these are perishable items, frozen meats, dairy products, yogurt, milk, cheese. It's enormously helpful," Zippin said.

Although food can be consumed past the expiration date, the food bank uses its own inspection process to ensure the food is still safe for eating.

Miller said, "A lot of it so much is not going out of date as it becomes a damaged product. For whatever reason cans come in or things fall, or that type of thing, get dented, at that point you tend to throw it away."

But what about meat and produce? Miller said, "Most produce is reduced. A lot of that would go to damage in most cases if it's out of date."

Before that happens, Miller says the store gets creative trying to make salads and stir-fry. And for meat, color is everything - keeping an eye on when it starts to get darker, so it can be frozen to keep it from getting older.

No matter if it's relying on expiration dates, or just sight and smell - for grocery stores, the bottom line is customer health and safety.

Miller said, "If it's something we wouldn't eat, then we're not going to sell it."

Health and safety is a priority. None of these organizations are interested in making people sick. They strive to waste less, but if it means jeopardizing the best interests of customers, it is thrown away.

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