Skip to Content

What Happens to Unsold Supermarket Food? | Where It Goes

Sometimes unsold food is donated by supermarkets but often is it just tossed out. In fact, 43 billion pounds, fully 10%, of unsold grocery store food is thrown away every year. Usually, owners and managers of stores erroneously throw it away because they are afraid of getting sued.

Discarded food usually ends up in landfills instead of feeding the homeless and hungry. The sad fact is that much of it was still safe to consume at the time it was discarded.

Please read on to learn more about the process and what can be done to help fix the problem.

Why Does So Much Food Get Thrown Away by Grocery Stores?

The cold hard truth is that much of it is actually considered the consumer’s fault because of the way we are taught to think. This leads to there being a few main reasons that so much food is discarded.

Grocery stores throw out anything that might not look the way consumers expect it to. This is because the public often looks at the packaging to determine food quality. Stores will also usually pull items close to their “sell by” dates for fear that consumers will think the store is selling bad food.

The demanding public has gotten ridiculously picky over the years. Packaging generally has nothing to do with the quality of what’s inside and foods typically are good far past the expiration date. If the product has even the slightest bit of damage to the package then the grocery store will toss it out even though there is nothing wrong with the contents.

Exacerbating the problem is that stores usually overstock because they assume their customers will buy more of the products if the store looks fully stocked up. Additionally, things that don’t sell fast enough in the minds of the managers and new items that aren’t moving off the shelves are also thrown out. This leads to exponentially more waste.

Why Don’t Stores Donate Expired Food to the Homeless and the Hungry?

The main reason many grocery stores do not donate expired is for liability reasons. Many owners and managers are under the impression that they can be sued if someone gets ill from eating the food that they donate. However, this way of thinking is misguided due to protections put in place by the government.

In 1996 congress passed a new law that protects the grocery stores and farmers who donate food in good faith. It’s called the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.

Another reason the food isn’t donated is due to the fact that the grocery stores don’t have the room, or don’t want to pay for the room, to store the food until someone picks it up.

Which Grocery Stores Donate the Most Food?

Grocery stores like Kroger’s, Albertson’s, Trader Joe’s, and Wal-Mart team up with companies like Feeding America to donate food to feed the hungry and homeless.

Feeding America helps to donate around 4 billion pounds of food every year. To learn more about their partners, go here.

What Happens if a Supermarket Sells Out of Date Food?

The law doesn’t make the manufacturer put the dates on their products and the only products that cannot be sold after the expiration date is baby food and formula. The manufacturer puts the dates on the products simply to tell the consumer how fresh the product is.

Basically, nothing can be done to the seller if a store sells out of date goods. Though they will usually refund your money as long as you have your receipt. If you are harmed or if you get sick then you might be able to file a liability suit. However, this type of lawsuit may be difficult to prove.

Even so, the law does hold grocery stores responsible for any injury caused to you by their faulty goods. However, you will have to prove the store is responsible for the harm or illness caused to you by their product and even that might not be enough.

What Is the Difference Between “Best if Sold by Date”, “Best if Used by Date” and “Expiration Date”?

In truth, none of these terms mean that the food is bad after that date which is what most consumers think and that is why grocery stores throw that food out before those dates.

  • “Best if sold by date” means that the product’s shelf life will end on that date and the seller will no longer vouch for its freshness.
  • “Best if used by date” means that the product should be used by that date for peak freshness and flavor. This is when the product will be at its best
  • “Expiration date” means this is the last day the food should be eaten but does not mean that the food is bad. It refers to the quality of the product and not the safety.

What Can Grocery Stores Do to Cut Down on Food Waste?

The easiest way for grocery stores to cut down on food waste is to donate it. However, it takes a little effort of their part. Stores have to take the time to be educated about the law that states they will not be held responsible when the food is donated in good faith.

They can also partner with the farmers to acquire the products that they are not able to sell so that it can be given to those in need.

Bottom Line

Grocery stores need to team up with their consumers to talk to them and educate them on how to cut down on food waste. Also to help them to learn what can be done with their leftovers, who it can be donated to, to help.

So please, if you own or manage a grocery store, stop rejecting food that is slightly imperfect or damaged! Find the time to do something good for society.