You Can Help Reduce Food Waste

August 5, 2022

Food waste is something we feel strongly about at the Fredericksburg Food Co-op. We see it as an environmental issue, with good food going into landfills and resources wasted. Now more than ever, with inflation afoot and food costs rising, we should be making sure we’re wasting as few of our precious resources as possible.

A big part of food waste is the confusion around expiration dates on the food we buy. What does the different language mean? “Sell by date”, “Best by”, “Freeze by”? Food date labels have little to do with safety and are only loosely related to quality. Many foods will still be good to eat well after those dates.* With very few exceptions (i.e., baby formula), these dates and language aren’t set or regulated by our government. Oftentimes they are arbitrarily set by manufacturers and if you think about it, manufacturers are positively impacted if you throw something away and buy another one.

As someone who has worked in grocery stores for over 20 years, this is not a secret among grocery workers. We have all eaten tons of amazing, delicious, perfectly good bread, chips, yogurt, cookies, coconut milk, etc, that is past its “expiration” date. Taking home expired food and ugly produce has always been a job benefit of being a grocery worker. Some folks have 401(k)’s, I have a cupboard full of past date rice pilaf.

Maybe it was growing up hearing my grandma say things like, “Waste not, want not Christopher”, or my parents telling me about starving kids around the world every time I didn’t want to eat my peas at dinner. Or maybe it was growing up and learning about all the resources that it took to get that can of peas from the farm to our table:  the farmer planting and harvesting the veggie; the processing and packaging materials used; the fuel of the truck to move it across the country and the trucker who moved it; the receiving and stocking of the item at the store. All those people and resources used to get this food to us has always made it feel so sad to see it get wasted. Forty percent of all food in America is wasted.*40%.

Reducing our environmental footprint is a core value of the Food Co-op

We have a policy at the Co-op that tells our staff what food we sell past its “expiration” or “best by dates” and for how long. Every food co-op I’ve worked at has had a similar policy and it helps in a couple ways:  a) many customers get to buy perfectly good, high quality food at a discounted price (30-50% off); and b) the Co-op gets to make a little bit of its money back on the product. Win Win! Of course all these purchases are guaranteed and eligible for return if they happen to be bad. With all food products, in and out of date, use your common sense. Our nose and our eyes are the best tools against eating anything that’s turned.

A big part of why folks shop and/or work at food co-ops is because we’re different. We’re more than a grocery store, we’re a mission driven organization. We have four core values that guide our work and reducing our environmental footprint is one of them. I’m proud of what the Fredericksburg Food Co-op does to help reduce food waste. I know that expired food isn’t for everyone and many will faithfully follow “best by” dates and that’s ok. But the next time there’s a little speck of mold on that cheddar cheese or that soy milk is a couple days past its expiration date, try giving that cheese a trim or that milk a sniff. And know that anytime we can keep good food out of the landfill, we’re helping fight that 40% number.

Cooperatively Yours,
Chris Roland
General Manager
Fredericksburg Food Co-op