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Watch for Expired Items at Grocery Stores

I originally wrote this article in 2009. At the time, I thought expired items at grocery stores only happened in huge cities. But as I learned from the comments on the post, it’s also happening in small towns and suburbs. The only explanation: greed. We’re not talking about small “mom and pop” stores that are barely making it and maybe don’t have enough staff to check everything. We’re talking big national chains.

Cans of vegetables with expiration dates visible

Finding expired items at grocery stores

Whole Foods is the worst offender, at least in the areas where I’ve shopped. I routinely find expired items on their shelves. I point this out to them. They act all horrified and make a show of removing those items. But next week, those items are back on the shelf. And we’re not talking two days past expiration – we’re talking months past expiration. Some health food chain!

In light of Jill Cataldo’s frightening expose, I decided to republish this article on February 24, 2011 because the matter deserves more and more attention until somebody does something about it. I’ve encountered:

  • Ice cream that’s months past its expiration, several times (Whole Foods)
  • Microwave popcorn weeks past its expiration (Von’s, a division of Safeway)
  • Bread a week or more past its expiration (Albertson’s)
  • Crackers months past expiration (various)
  • Pumpkin seeds weeks past expiration (World Market)
  • Chicken with green slime inside (Whole Foods)
  • Salad packages days or weeks past expiration (various – I see this frequently)

Who’s to blame?

I don’t know who is at fault. Some items are stocked by the store employees, and others by suppliers. But it’s ultimately the responsibility of the stores to monitor what’s on their shelves. I believe the stores are gambling that we’ll buy this stuff without noticing. This saves them a lot of money: expired food must either be returned (if the supplier will accept it) or trashed. But they’re not even putting it on sale in most cases – they’re just selling it at regular price and hoping we won’t notice.

I realize a lot of expired items aren’t going to hurt anybody. But some will. So these stores are really gambling that no one will die from eating spoiled food.

What to do?

If you want to help protect yourself from expired items at grocery stores and/or stop this from happening, here are my suggestions:

  1. Check expiration dates. Don’t buy anything that’s past its date or so close you can’t consume it before the date passes.
  2. Post about it online, since calling and complaining doesn’t seem to be helping any.
  3. When you see expired items at grocery stores, complain to someone at the store.
  4. Call the store’s home office and complain. The number may be on your receipt, or the store employees should give it to you. You can also probably find it online.
  5. Call the manufacturer of the food that’s expired. They may not realize grocery stores are doing this, and potentially ruining their reputation by selling food with their name on it that’s bound to taste less good than it should. They may have more power over the grocery stores than we have.
  6. Keep your receipts so you can return expired items you accidentally buy.
  7. Tell your friends and fellow shoppers. Talk loudly about this stuff.
  8. People with poor eyesight can have a lot of trouble reading expiration dates. If you have trouble reading, get an employee to help you. If they refuse, complain to a manager. If you see someone struggling to read an expiration date, volunteer to help them if your eyesight is better.
  9. If you can find a market that doesn’t do this, shop there.

That is why I keep encouraging you to share your stories here in the comments or elsewhere online. The more people know about this, the more chance the press will keep pressing and, who knows? Maybe something will actually get done.