Serri Graslie

At the grocery auction, yogurt is going once … going twice …

My latest story for All Things Considered has made me a woman reformed. Since looking into grocery auctions – where they sell damaged, seasonal, discontinued or close to expired food – I now have second thoughts when deciding whether to throw food in the trash can or onto my plate.

It turns out expiration dates aren’t as menacing as I once thought – they’re only required on infant formula and it’s not illegal to sell most expired food. At the grocery auctions, I met dozens of people who attested to the quality of the out-of-date products they bought for rock bottom prices. With more digging, I found out that expiration dates have been getting shorter, solely for marketing reasons. So between food that expires on the shelf and all of those other “unsellable” products, there are billions of dollars in food per year that most Americans don’t want to buy. But most of it is just fine.

It was a fascinating story to research, and got me really interested in the concept of the reverse supply chain – what happens to products when they reach their intended end, but nobody wants them? Hopefully I’ll be looking into other stories that examine the same question.

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