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Mar 16, 2009 06:50 PM

Whole Foods fired a man for taking a tuna sandwich destined for the trash

The Union Square Whole Foods in New York fired a man for taking a tuna sandwich destined for the trash, which meant he was ineligible for unemployment benefits due to being fired for misconduct.

the NYTimes mentions more here:

What do you think of that?

I personally think that was a bad move on the part of Whole Foods and don't plan to shop there anymore.

What do you think? How significantly do you allow a store or restaurant's policies and/or actions (vs. quality /prices of goods offered) affect your purchasing decisions?

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  1. I guess if it's an established, written store policy and he violated it, they were within their rights to fire him and deny him unemployement benefits. If it's trash, they probably don't want people eating it, otherwise how are they going to sell their product if their refuse is just as appetizing? I don't know if Whole Foods is union or not, but that might have something to do with it.
    I guess if you dig deep enough and monitor personnel decisions at most major companies, you could find something to justify not doing business with any of them.

    2 Replies
    1. re: podunkboy

      I read this item in the paper this morning. It said the man had recently been transferred from another department within the same store where his supervisor allowed workers to eat food that was being discarded at the end of the day. This mixed message seems unfair to the worker and WholePaycheck could well afford not to be so petty. Also hypocritical: how can they have "save the earth" logos all over the store and then condone the waste of good food? And to Poptart: say they close at 10 PM, at 9:45 they would have sold that same sandwich to a customer. Is it going to rot in 15 minutes?

      1. re: Querencia

        I totally agree with you, that amount of time doesn't make a difference, and I think it is terrible there is so much waste going on. And people who work there surely should be allowed some free food which was going to be wasted. I certainly don't agree with what WF did, but was questioning the issue of liability being the reason, since this seems to be the cause of so many ridiculous policies.

    2. I wonder if they had a policy against allowing someone to take food destined for trash due to liability issues, such as what if someone took said tuna sandwich, got sick and then sued Whole Foods for it? Wouldn't surprise me if this has happened, and caused them to be strict about this "Cover Your Arse" policy.

      1. Funny, I've relatively recently become a WF shopper on my trips back to the US. NEVER AGAIN! Food waste is a global problem.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          I totally agree about waste being a huge problem.

          It's probably due to the fact that lawsuits get the one where a woman went to a McDonald's, got coffee, put it on her lap in the car while driving, got burned by coffee spillage then sued (successfully!) McDonalds as a result, even though SHE chose to put the coffee where she did, while driving and knew it was hot. It's a crazy world.

          1. re: poptart

            before you use the infamous McDonalds lawsuit as an example to prove your point, you might want to do a bit of reading about the actual facts of that case. It isn't really a good example at all, nor is it comparable, nor is it nearly the example of a crazy world as your post would imply. A quick check of google will give you numerous unbiased accounts to read, along with the biased ones.

            There are a lot of explanations for WF's actions that are just as plausible as the 'covering one's arse' explanation. Just as easy for me to believe that one of the following (or all of them) could be the explanation:

            1. They wanted staff to BUY the products (the example below of an employee who would get in trouble for taking paper from the trash at the drug store might have worked at a place with such reasoning: after all, it is very hard to believe that the drug store really thought they could get sued over injury from paper); or

            2. They didn't want customers to see anyone rooting through the trash, for fear it would give a wrong image to the store; or

            3. They didn't want the staff doing anything but working during work hours; or

            4. The policy was enacted to help insure that what went in the trash REALLy was trash; in other words, perhaps they were afraid that if employees were allowed to remove items from the trash, they would trash items prematurely in order to be able to remove them for free....

            Contrary to popular belief, it isn't always about the lawyers.

            1. re: susancinsf

              Yes, please don't bring in the McDonalds lawsuit, as you will find that this case was only brought after the national chain refused to lower the temperature settings on their coffee pots, after numerous instances of customers being burned and filing complaints.
              ( see:

              The real issue here is in how this employee was terminated, and the implication that firing him for misconduct saves WF on unemployment claims. More investigation would be merited to make sure that this is not a systemic WF labor practice. That would be ugly.

              1. re: susancinsf

                #4 is the reason. When I was young and worked at BK we would do just that. A policy was enacted by management to deal with it.


                1. re: Davwud

                  Heh. Friends of mine who worked at BK in the olden days were allowed to take a certain number of containers of food home. They spent a lot of time and ingenuity filling those containers with specially made burgers.

                  A lot of people take jobs like that for the discounts, perks and freebies and that's great; it works for everyone. BUT most places put in rules so it doesn't become a free-for-all. I still think WF went overboard firing this guy when he didn't even end up taking the stuff, and assuming it was the first time he's been spoken to. However, things are so bad that they can easily hire someone for less than he's making. You really have to watch your back these days.

              2. re: poptart

                Poptart, you might want to look that case up. That story has grown well into urban-legend land and I assure you McDonald's had a share of the blame. I wish it wouldn't get referred to every time someone has a gripe about litigation, because it's a crummy example.

                Sure, we're litigious, but we're also a rule of law society. Personally, I want big companies watching their butts. They get away with enough. Yeah, WF picked a stupid fight, but I think this is not a fair snapshot of society.

                1. re: Vetter

                  Just did some reading on the case and indeed, it is not a good example.

                  What bothers me is when those who try to "beat the system", be they individuals or big companies, do so at the expense of others, solely for their own gain. And the "others" are usually the ones who have to pay the price. Just look at our current economic crisis.
                  All too often it's the big companies taking advantage, for sure.

              3. re: Sam Fujisaka

                Sam, I think the jury should be out until we hear WF's side of things. I've heard tales of employees at groceries stealing food and declaring that they thought it had been destined for the scrap heap. Not saying that is the case here, but stores generally have very strict policies to protect against this sort of pilfering.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  WF, like other companies, donates a lot of uneaten food to charities. I don' tthink this is a waste issue. It is more likely a risk management/theft prevention policy. Otherwise, a lot of good food goes into the trash and employees scavenge it. This is a very common problem, and policy, in the restaurant industry.

                2. The original comment has been removed
                  1. I agree that waste is unconscionable. It's always baffled me that stores, hotels, and establishments throw out their surpluses rather than donate.
                    Can someone who works in these companies elaborate?

                    LARAven: your example is really sad. The NYTimes recently reported on a non profit group that takes surplus supplies and donates them to schools. Why can't all corporations do this instead of trashing them? Haven't they any notion of corporate responsibility?

                    Those who work in hotels and chains: I've heard it's SOP for surpluses to be thrown away and employees who take them get fired. Why did this become enshrined as policy, and why was this policy never revised in the light of today's environmental and hunger concerns?
                    Think of all those supplies that come at breakfast: millions of individually wrapped pats of butter or marge, teenytiny bottles of ketchup (do they even produce them any more?) Large surpluses in the kitchen / fridge / freezer.

                    I know the US is a crazy litigous society. But with so much waste, which surely affects their bottom line, and all the PR gains to be made, you think one of them would have gotten their lawyers to figure out a way to donate surpluses rather than waste them.

                    There is apparently enough food to feed the world's 6+ billion. It's just getting thrown into rich countries' trash!

                    1. re: Rasam

                      The local McDonald's franchise years ago used to donate food left over at the end of the night to the 'soup kitchen' a few blocks away until one of the homeless people that ate there sued because they claimed they got sick from it and won a settlement from them. I also worked for them for several years and they also had to revise their policy about employees taking home 'waste' food at the end of the night because employees would frequently cook a whole bag of McNuggets five minutes before close creating a lot of extra 'waste' food to take home with them.

                      I've worked at a number of other retail places over the years and most policies such as the one the OP's post is describing are born out of abuse from either employees or customers.

                      Everyone has an angle.

                      1. re: chris in illinois

                        Yep, I agree. I used to work for a gourmet food company that made prepared meals for people to reheat at home. Sometimes we'd have a surplus due to miscounting or a cancelled order. As employees we were allowed to eat it, but after calling around to the local homeless shelters after a particularly large order (100 meals) was going to be wasted, I found out we'd be liable if anyone got sick, hurt, or whatever else from our food. The risk just wasn't worth it to the company, so in the trash it all went.

                        1. re: Azizeh

                          OOTH every now and then one reads of catering or companies successfully organizing a food donation program of surpluses. So someone somewhere has figured out a way around the liability issue.

                          It just is not right to waste food like that.

                          1. re: Rasam

                            It's also not right to take advantage of someone's goodwill then stab them in the back as soon as they turn around.

                            Most of the companies mentioned in the above posts are public companies and have not just a responsibility to their share holders to turn a profit but are legally required to do everything they can to do so. With legal fees being as outrageous as they are it just doesn't make any sense to take the chance to go and donate a bunch of perishable food to a local shelter. Sooner or later somebody will claim to have gotten sick and sue you for it. It is a sad and pathetic situation but it is the world we live in.

                        2. re: chris in illinois

                          It's currently against State Health Department regulations in my state for a restaurant/caterer to donate cooked food to soup kitchens, etc.

                          It broke my heart. I used to look forward to calling a soup kitchen in the neighboring city when we'd done a catering job and literally had trays full of unconsumed food. The person in charge there always beamed.

                          After this edict came down from the Health Department, I contacted the soup kitchen and told them that this'd be just one more project for them to lobby about.

                        3. re: Rasam

                          The issue is liability. Unless someone is willing to accept the liability for distributing the food (such as the non-profite group you mentioned), a company, esp. a publicly traded one, is not willing to get sued for someone who claims that they ate donated food and got sick. Don't blame the companies, blame our liability laws. And in the OP's original post, a tuna sandwich is not something that can be donated, because it goes bad quickly.

                          The policy against employees taking company waste is to lessen the impact of employees stealing, which is a big problem for many companies.

                          1. re: PeterL

                            Yep. I worked for food distribution center in North Carolina, and in order to accept prepared food donations, there had to be a tremendous amount of legal paperwork filed and signed on both sides. Both organizations had to legally agree to terms of distribution, food handling, etc. It was a pain in the butt and definitely deterred places from donating their leftover food waste, even though we had a couple volunteers from the UNC law school who'd handle the paperwork.

                            I understand there are other issues tangled up in this story, but if you are truly concerned about food waste, please don't just stop shopping at WF. Get out there and lobby for less restrictive laws regarding food waste. It's completely absurd that a stack of legal papers need to be filed before the local bakery can donate their leftover loaves to a food distribution center. The trash is obviously not the best place for 100 loaves of one day old bread...

                            1. re: PeterL

                              The liability completely depends on the municipality involved. New York City has a Good Samaritan law that protects food service companies from liability should someone get sick from food they donated to a charity like the NYC Food Bank or City Harvest. Phoenix also has such a law.

                        4. My local WF market donates all leftover prepared food to a several homeless shelters. I'm not sure it's fair to assume they are unaware of the problems of food waste. Perhaps this employee was, as others have said, in violation of specific policies. Or, perhaps he was fired for generally being incompetent and taking the sandwich was the final straw.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: GSM

                            There must be some agreement between your local WF and these shelters that the shelters will assume any liability for the food that is received.