Is Expired Food Really Dangerous?



ExpiredIllustrated by Caitlin Owens.
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Yesterday I poured myself a big bowl of Fruity Pebbles — like a regular adult — and then went into my fridge to retrieve the milk. Right when I was about to pour it, I stopped. The sell-by date read two days prior. Then, without even thinking, I immediately threw the three-quarters full milk in trashcan and — like a pragmatic adult — I ate my Fruit Loops dry.

Every year, about 40 percent of all food in the United States goes uneaten. It is either tossed out or is left to rot, equaling about $165 billion in wasted food goods. There are multiple factors that contribute to this 40 percent, one of them being consumer’s misunderstanding about "sell-by," "best-by," and "use-by" dates, which mostly go unregulated and prove confusing to many buyers.

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Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, believes he has a solution. In May, he’s launching The Daily Table, a grocery store and restaurant in Dorchester, Massachusetts, that will offer inexpensive food considered "unsellable" by regular grocery stores.

The idea is simple — make wholesome foods more readily available for lower-income families by using expired goods, effectively making healthy food the same price as fast food. Moreover, The Daily Table is going to be a non-profit so that grocers will be able to get tax deductions when they donate their unwanted stock.

In an interview with The New York Times, Rauch explained what would be available at The Daily Table. “We’re going to grab all of this stuff, bring it on-site, cook prepared meals with it, and also offer milk, eggs, bread, and produce. It’s going to be priced the same as junk food, basically.” Expired fruits and vegetables will also be available, as well as other items that are fine to eat but may have damaged packaging.

Essentially, Rauch is hoping to make nutrition affordable.

He points out that an average family on food stamps has about $3 to spend on dinner. “For that you can get about 3,700 calories’ worth of soda, crackers, cookies, and snacks, or you can get 300 or 320 calories of fruits and vegetables” say Rauch. “It’s economically rational to feed your kids junk.”

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No matter how you feel about Rauch or his plans for The Daily Table, he is brining attention to a big problem in America, food waste.

The United States is responsible for 1/3 on the world’s food waste. Since 1974, there has been a 50 percent rise in food waste. Why are these numbers so high? And, more importantly, what can we do to make them go down?

It’s about gaining a greater awareness and understanding of exactly why we throw away our food and, moreover, what we can do to rewire our possible misconceptions, even if it is in a small way. For instance, many fruits and vegetables go uneaten and get thrown away because their shape, size, or color doesn’t look how we think they “should,” but they are still perfectly acceptable to eat. Buying these items at the grocery would prevent this produce from being thrown out.

If the tale of The Ugly Duckling has taught us anything, it’s that we should not judge something based on its looks but, rather, on its nutritious value. I'm not saying go and eat that enchilada that has been sitting in your fridge for a week and a half. Definitely don’t do that, no matter how good it looks. It doesn’t end well.

When it comes to eating slightly expired food goods, safety and health should always be you first and foremost concern. Just be knowledgeable and know that you can enjoy your cereal with milk that is slightly past its sell-by date. It will help to reduce the nation’s waste and it will save you from having to eat dry Fruity Pebbles, which is never fun.