HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Why are we wasting so much food?

  • t

Our local markets here in New Orleans throw away so much food every day it is a crime. What ever happened to day old bread, when nearly every market these days has an in house bakery. Why does a bruised piece of fruit get tossed in the trash instead of discounted for consumer consumption. Same with cheese, a little green on a corner, that can easily be trimmed off, is tossed away. With all the hunger that is taking place in our country, and all the hard times people are experiencing, does it not seem immoral to throw away so much food.
And the same goes for restaurants.
Why are these foods not given to soup kitchens, marked down or frozen for resale, stale bread turned into bread crumbs, bread pudding. The possibilities are endless.

Any ideas as to how to make this happen?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. eliminate lawyers.....

    Seriously though, I used to have a side business selling food products @ special events and flea markets. Some of the items we specialized in was fresh baked goods,and breads. I was also had a partner who had access to Drake's Cakes and Entenmann's products that were pulled off the shelf with a week remaining on the *sell by* date. . Originally, we used to donate the unsold items to soup kitchens, but they became too demanding and special requests.


    2 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      So you are saying lawyers stand in the way of selling day old bread at a discount or slightly over ripe fruit . Throwing it away is legally more prudent.
      One of my stores does sell "yesterdays grind" of ground beef at a discount. Is that illegal?

      1. re: Tonto

        Why are these foods not given to soup kitchens......

        Whether true or not, If anyone makes a claim that they have eaten something and it made them sick.....it's not worth the trouble of having to defend yourself. Whether you provided the food in question, or not,......lawyers will name you and everyone else who donated or sold food items found in their pantries in any action seeking compensation.

    2. I volunteer at a community center that passes out food. They're short of volunteers who will pick up food from stores/markets and the stores don't have the personnel to deliver it. Home made food is another matter and they can't pass that out. But, if you have the time, ask the local food pantries if you can help them out. FWIW, with all the preservatives in bread, they last far longer than the sell by date and our pantry has far more bread than it can use. There are days when boxfuls of bread are thrown out, as sad as it is to see.

      3 Replies
      1. re: chowser

        Last week, I noticed a big truck distributing bread to anyone who wants it in front of my metro station. I asked what was going on and they said that they're a food pantry that had way more bread than they could use so they were giving it to people so it wouldn't go to waste. The truck they used had their information on it and they gave anyone who stopped whether they took any bread or not a small brochure with information about their mission and ideas for how to contribute. I thought that was pretty good advertisement for them and it prevented a truckful of bread from going to waste.

        1. re: hala

          But did it take business from bakeries?

          Handouts aren't always the best for individuals or for a community (just like they aren't usually the best for wild animals).

          1. re: paulj

            Good point. I don't know. They were distributing supermarket bread and I am not sure how many people would have bought a loaf from a corner store if they had not been given a free one. There is a bakery right across the street from where they were distributing the bread, but I don't think that that type of bread would change anyone's mind about buying a baguette.

            As for whether handouts are good or not, I have no clue. In an ideal world, we would not have to give anyone a handout, but in the world that we live in,lots of people need a bit of help every now and then.

      2. A friend worked at a large grocery store chain; they were told to not only throw out that bruised fruit, day old bread, etc, but to dump bleach on that food in the trash. That way anyone even dumpster diving couldn't eat it and potentially sue the store.

        1. Locally, contact your local Feeding America Food Bank (yours is http://no-hunger.org/ ) or the National Foundation ( http://feedingamerica.org/ ) and ask them why they can't or won't accept this food, or ask what you can do to help facilitate this. Contact the markets and restaurants in question directly and ask why they can't or won't donate.

          Become active.

          My understanding is that many cities and municipalities are working to change the liability laws so this type of food can be donated, but progress has been slow. I thought NYC was taking the lead on this but I haven't heard recently where they are in this.

          We have a couple dozen fruit trees and the local high school kids earn community service hours picking the fruit and delivering several hundred pounds annually to our local food bank/community service organization.

          1 Reply
          1. re: acgold7

            Thank you acgold7.

            That is the kind of information I am looking for.
            Chowser thank you as well, now we are getting somewhere.

          2. In Manhattan, NY my local D'Agostino supermarket puts out bruised fruits and vegies in a plastic bag and I can see the homeless and an assortment of people picking through the bags. I guess it's easier to do that than to try to sell 'imperfect' bruised fruit/vegies. When I've bought them, it wasn't worth the money because I had to throw half the food away.

            Also, the stores have to be careful about not selling food past its expiration date.

            1. I used to work for a major coffee chain that also sells sandwiches, and we were not allowed to give them to the homeless at the end of the night in case of spoilage in the mayonnaise, etc. We were supposed to bury them deeply in the trash so that they wouldn't find them. It always made me sick to my stomach not just to see such excess purposefully tossed, but to walk past homeless people on my way to the dumpster and not be allowed to hand them a sandwich I had only taken out of the fridge ten minutes prior.

              1 Reply
              1. re: thursday

                So if I walked into the store a minute before closing and bought the sandwich, it would be fine, but two minutes later, after the store closed, "it might be spoiled" and must be destroyed. Management's logic doesn't add up.

                For decades people, me included, have taken sandwiches for lunch in unrefrigerated "brown" bags and lunch boxes, and eaten them hours later. Most of us made it home that evening no worse for the wear.

              2. Three L's.



                Loss prevention

                1. Our state health department rules (Florida) effectively prevent any meat donations from stores because of rules about storage temperatures and chains of custody. Produce is also regarded as kind of iffy to donate because of health department rules and spoilage concerns. But baked goods get donated by a lot of stores. I used to run a senior nutrition program, and we had a pretty good rotation from Fresh Market, Publix, and Panera bread donated day-old baked goods that we used to supplement meals on wheels and senior center lunch programs.

                  If you get on the Panera rotation (ours only donated to one food non-profit each night to keep itsimple) they will give you bags and bags of their bread and pastries on your night. You just might have to do some repackaging of them before passing it out. Publix was also good to us and the nice thing with them was that what we picked up was already packaged for easy distribution. Fresh Market manages their inventory a little more tightly so they don't have as many leftovers as other stores, but what they did have left, they were always glad to share with us.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: beachmouse

                    Publix doesn't donate any food products any more... they quit doing it three or four years ago. It's a terrible shame that there's so much waste in the world, and so many hungry people. :( Businesses are concerned with the bottom line - profit - and they're afraid of being sued. If you want to see more people helped, get them to change the Samaritan laws to make it easier to do it without getting yourself sued.

                    But our church feeding program gets bread and pastries from the local Panera store every week, and when we get too much bread we pass it on to another program. We're only allowed to give people non-perishable food to take home - bread, bagels, breakfast bars etc. Anything that can't be stored at room temperature can't leave the church hall, so we can't give people butter to go with their bread, only the little packets of jelly.

                    1. re: Kajikit

                      Starbucks also is donates a lot of food. I wonder why some places can do it and others can't, as liability goes.

                      1. re: chowser

                        My guess would be that it depends somewhat on the scale of the business. If you factor in the cost of contacting organizations, setting up a system, delivering stuff, and legal advice to keep you out of trouble, it's probably not worth the effort or expense for smaller businesses. With larger ones, the cost is going to be proportionally smaller.

                        1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                          With Starbucks (at least where I volunteer), volunteers go and bring the food in, similar to grocery stores so it doesn't cost the store anything. I can see how stores wouldn't be allowed to serve leftovers that have been served (like from a banquet) vs food it has prepared that hasn't left the kitichen--but maybe that's the key, catering places don't often prepare food that just sits in the kitchen.

                      2. re: Kajikit

                        Kajikit, Our local Panera does the same. Because the local food bank doesn't have anyone working they close, our church rotates volunteers to pick up and deliver the next morning. We also use some of it for meal programs. It takes a bit of effort to get organized and have a schedule working, but it is so worthwhile. I wish other restaurants were as generous.

                    2. Our local Shaws and Market Basket stores both sell bruised/ over ripe fruits & veggies and their own, day old in house baked goods at a steep discount. I will buy it if it seems like a good day for smoothies or if the bread would be good with dinner that night. There is a store that carried older branded baked goods, bread, Entenmans, chips, etc.

                      My daughter works at a bagel place that discounts their day olds and sells then by the half dozen. The second day olds get put in the freezer for the local soup kitchen.

                      1. i know a few markets in my area that compost old food items. connecting farm to market and back - what a novel idea.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: majordanby


                          That is the best idea of all. What area are you in?

                          1. re: Tonto

                            i live in the bay area in california. Several markets and many restaurants compost food scraps and "retired" food. Some areas, like in Berkeley, include food compost bins for residential units (along with the typical plastics, bottles and paper recycling). obviously, i realize that many areas in the states do not have such convenient services, so i never take it for granted and always compost food scraps.

                        2. For name brand bread, check the bakery outlet stores. I think that kind of bread is brought to the store by a bakery representative or salesperson (independent or hired?), who then takes unsold items back to the distribution center. These then might appear at a discount in the outlet store.

                          Some groceries have an 'expired date' meat bin, often a freezer section, but not always. But some have stopped that practice. In my experience, a smaller independent store is more likely to continue this practice. I also keep a sharp eye for 'reduced' stickers on meat.

                          1. I almost want to be upset over this, but... Like most (if not everyone) here, I check produce (and other items) before I buy them. If it's a leafy green I look for firmness. If it's a fruit I smell for fragrance. If it's meat I look for the right color. And, so on. I don't buy anything I consider to be sub-par. So, essentially, by being picky, I'm being part of the problem. If people like me were more willing to settle for slightly out of date by still useable food, then this wouldn't be as great a problem.

                            But... Sorry. I just can't bring myself to buy sub-par food. At least not when higher quality/freshness can be had.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: ediblover

                              A couple of the smaller Asian-multi-ethnic shops that I patronize are more likely to have vegetables and fruit that are sub-par. I've learned to be picky about what I buy from those places.

                              We've been talking about waste after the products have appeared on the grocery shelf. What about waste before? What about the bell peppers that don't meet the presentation standards at big-name groceries? The fruit that does not have the perfect color consumers have come to expect? Where does that go?

                              Another dimension to waste - is it more or less of a problem in countries like the USA? Transportation from farm to market is critical when dealing with produce. I've read that spoilage in this link can be quite high in less-developed countries.

                              As consumers most of us only see a small portion of the food distribution system, and only think about waste in that portion. Is that really significant or not?

                              1. re: paulj

                                I believe the produce not pretty enough to be sold as is goes into fresh, frozen or canned products that use things chopped etc. Profit is small on many items so they make use of all of it if possible.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  I agree with checking my food and only buying the best, but that's when it's all the same price. Many stands at the farmer's market have "seconds" bins at reduced cost, and I pretty much buy exclusively from those bins. I'm poor, cheap, and don't mind cutting off bruises...but I don't want to pay for the portions I'm dumping.

                                  I wish big stores would have seconds bins - I'd buy to save waste as well as money. But even when meat is on "manager special" and turning gray, they try to charge 2.99 - 5.99 a pound. Okay, that's marginally reduced, but not enough to tempt me to try gray meat, and instead it gets thrown out. I don't understand it.

                                  1. re: thursday


                                    A 10% reduction for meat that has lost 80% of its shelf life is absurd. If it is selling, then i'll hold my tongue. But when they are tossing it out... why can't you just run out with a gun and mark it down to $.99/lb for the last few hours?

                                  2. re: paulj

                                    It drives me crazy how "pretty" some grocery store produce is because I know what it takes to make it look that way. I don't need perfect spinach leaves (which is one reason pesticide use is high for them--people don't want spinach which bugs have eaten), I don't need waxed and shiny apples. When I worked for an ag producer, the guys in the cauliflower field were highly skilled w/ machetes because if they cut the leaves off and nicked the cauliflower in any way, it would no longer be sellable as a whole, or at least as a top brand. It didn't affect the quality, just the appearance.

                                    1. re: chowser


                                      I know about pretty food first hand. In the early 70's I was running commercial hydroponic greenhouses. Our product was as good tasting as you can get, primarily tomatoes, but lettuce as well. The only people we could sell the tomatoes to were chefs, because the taste was there. When it came to the markets the pretty factor wasn't there so they would not buy from us. But that was the 70's

                                      1. re: Tonto

                                        If you want to see sad waste, you should see the ag fields when prices of the commodities drop too low and it costs more to harvest than to sell. Entire fields of great produce just lie there, food wasted. This was back in the 90's (which feels like yesterday) but I wonder why no one thought to organize volunteers to pick produce to donate to shelters. Fresh produce is a rare treat for some people.

                                  3. re: ediblover


                                    You are not my target audience. What i am trying to figure out is to how to get the "unwanted food" to those who need the nutrition and not necessarily the prettiest food.

                                  4. Here is a 1997 USDA study on food wasteage


                                    According to their numbers, consumer and food service loses are the greatest component. One source of information on household waste is archaeological style garbage studies.

                                    1. I work (as the only paid staff person) in a program which provides a weekly free meal in our neighborhood. Each week we have about $3 per person for 120-150 guests. Volunteers work each week to prepare the food, which I either pick up, or negotiate with the suppliers to deliver a "less than minimum" order. The program is not generously funded, and so my hours are limited. We simply do not have the resources to be running around town looking for free food, which then must be sorted and stored. To be honest, it is more effective to buy frozen peas from Costco, than to glean free beans from the community farmers or drive around picking up off-market tomatoes of which 40% will need to be sorted out and discarded. An additional consideration: when our program receives produce which is needs to be sorted and discarded, the disposal cost is effectively off-loaded from the store/warehouse to the agency least able to pay for same.

                                      1. Here in New Zealand supermarkets always have 'Reduced to Clear' items of all sorts. Fresh meat, deli items and produce as well as packaged items. Produce that is bruised but otherwise fine have the bruised/damaged bits cut out, are packaged together and sold at a knockdown price.
                                        One chain has a large 'Yesterday's Bake' section where they sell everything from their in-store bakery that is a day old. it's usually still very fresh - never stale.
                                        It's brilliant - I always buy these type of items and have never had a dud.

                                        1. I was looking at the deli case at a grocery store the other evening. There were giant bowls of prepared salads still sitting there at 7 pm. I am not sure what bothers me more; that they might sell them again tomorrow and the next day until it runs out, that they might throw all of it away, that they might donate it when it is close to (or past) spoiling....use your imagination. Same with their salad bar. If I owned a store, there would be no prepared food for obvious reasons. It is a system with tons of built-in waste.

                                          1. I have just become aware of a movement about wasted food and food recovery. Jonathon Bloom Blogs on wastedfood.com. A wealth of information on the subject and it's environmental impact methane gas, for one and the amount of water used to process our food from hoof to table and seed to whatever it grows is unbelievable. I am in New Orleans and want to start a movement here to develop a food waste system.

                                            1. I've never understood the concern with wasted food. We are not experiencing a famine, we produce way more food than is necessary to feed the population.

                                              8 Replies
                                              1. re: redfish62

                                                And the poorest folks in the south are the most obese. We should be stealing food from them, not giving them more. That or disappear Paula Deen.

                                                My uncle used to buy stale bread by the truck load to feed his menagerie. One day he noted a homeless guy making off with a loaf of bread from the back of his truck. He tried to get the guy to come back and get all he could carry but the man threw his prize in the gutter and kept on running.

                                                1. re: kengk

                                                  you need a "cleaner" - muffin stumps, stale bread - he'll take care of it.

                                                  1. re: kengk

                                                    Just because people are obese does not mean that they are getting enough good food.


                                                    "Obesity and malnutrition exist not only in the same country but within the same community, the same household and even, strange as it may seem, in the same person."

                                                    1. re: hala

                                                      I do believe there is a connection between obesity and malnutrition. When a person eats poor quality, low-nutrient, or just unbalanced meals, their body demands that they just keep eating because it is craving the things it needs in order to be healthy. Hunger is the only way a body has to demand nutrition; if it doesn't get good nutrition, it stays hungry.

                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                        In your theory, what exactly is a nutrient?

                                                    2. re: kengk

                                                      Have you read about the connection between poverty and obesity? I'm uncomfortable with the notion that fat = poor character for a bunch of reasons.

                                                      1. re: Vetter

                                                        Fat=immediate gratification. $100 won't change your life but it does buy a lot of cookies. I am 54. When I was a kid living in the Port Washington, NY of MEET THE PARENTS low income folks worked in factories and the well off were heavy. Now the well-off drink bottled water and the workers drink Coke.

                                                  2. Also, for people concerned with wasting food. Whilst doing your grocery shopping be sure and pick out the item closest to (or even better, past the) expiration date and/or choose the worst looking produce. This will help the stores avoid throwing out expired and semi-rotten food. Every little bit helps!

                                                    1. Can't tell if you are joking, or not, but for the price I have to pay for food( full price), m not going to settle for, " past expiration date", or "bruised produce". If the price is marked down well enough, I DO buy almost expired everything! I've never gotten sick either.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: mariars

                                                        Values change over the course of time. To attempt to be cost-effective is perceived as counter to self-esteem. Thus not using "subpar" products show that the disposer of food products is a good person regardless of whether said tactic is cost-effective or morally justifiable.