The other day I saw a disturbing headline on the CBC website. The headline was, Walmart insider says ‘heartbreaking’ amount of food dumped in trash. The article reports that a former worker at almost a dozen Walmart stores in the Vancouver area claims he saw loads of what appeared to be perfectly good food dumped in the trash, even though Walmart says it only discards inedible food. The article also states that CBC Marketplace investigated this issue with the episode airing Friday, October 28, in which their investigation exposed that in the Toronto area, investigators repeatedly found outdoor garbage bins piled high with everything from produce to baked goods, frozen foods, meat and dairy products.
Now this is an issue that I’ve twice before written posts about. Those posts were Don’t throw that away and Vive La France. I just can’t wrap my head around why this occurs. Is it that corporations, like Walmart, just can’t be bothered? Do they not care? According to the article, the large retailer is committed to reducing food waste. The Walmart spokesperson says the company has teamed up with many organizations such as food banks to donate unsold food. The company also claims food is only discarded when it’s deemed unsafe to eat. If that is true, why did Marketplace discover all the food waste? The spokesperson could not address all the reports from Walmart insiders who told CBC they were instructed to throw away food if it looked imperfect or was close to an expired best-before date, or if shelf space was needed.
So what are these “best before dates” about? Another CBC report titled, Best before dates and expiry dates: 5 things you may not know, explains it this way.
The best before date has nothing to do with the safety of the food. It has to do with the taste of the food. Best before dates guarantee freshness. Now expiration dates are different. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency dictates that only five types of products need to be labelled with an expiration date. These include, baby formula and other human milk substitutes, nutritional supplements, meal replacements, pharmacist-sold foods for very low-energy diets, and formulated liquid diets. So the reality is you don’t have to discard a food item when the best before date is reached. Generally, if the food changes colour, or develops a bad smell, it is no longer safe to eat. Dented, leaking or bulging cans should be discarded. When in doubt throw it out is a good rule of thumb to follow.
Thankfully, there is some good news. Some corporations are truly trying to reduce waste. The CBC article, Selling unwanted food at a discount, says the Loblaws grocery chain recently expanded its Naturally Imperfect line. Loblaws is a supermarket chain with over 2000 stores in Canada. Those are stores such as Loblaws, No Frills, Value-mart, Superstore, Real Canadian Superstore, and numerous others. Its Naturally Imperfect line is where it offers up to a 30 per cent discount for blemished and deformed produce. The program began in Ontario and has now spread to select Loblaws grocery stores across the country.
IGA in Quebec is now selling imperfect produce. (see ugly produce). IGA is part of Sobeys which is the second largest food retailer in Canada. My question is why aren’t they selling imperfect produce in all provinces? Furthermore, why aren’t all grocery chains selling imperfect produce? It’s time we consumers start demanding all stores stock imperfect produce. It decreases food waste and saves us money.
Save-On Foods, a chain of supermarkets across western Canada, announced in September that they were placing “Misfit” produce in all their stores (see Misfit produce). I give a thumbs up to Loblaws, IGA and Save-On Foods for taking positive steps towards reducing waste.
Furthermore, we need to pressure grocery chains to donate to food charities and pressure governments to enforce it like France and Italy have done. I recently read in a local daily newspaper that the city of Calgary, located in Alberta, Canada, saves nearly a tonne of food a week from the landfill. Using volunteers, Lourdes Juan, founder of non-profit LeftOvers Calgary, picks up leftover food destined for the landfill and delivers it to hungry Calgarians. (see Calgary Herald article for more). The Globe and Mail did a story called, Charity makes the most out of other people’s leftovers, where the paper reports on organizations who are helping people in need and reducing waste. Kudos to those organizations!
I’ve always been told that the reason grocery chains and food establishments don’t donate their leftover food or the food deemed unsellable is because of liability issues. In other words, if they donated food and someone acquires food poisoning as a result, they could be sued. After I wrote my post, Don’t throw that away, I contacted the provincial government to ask why companies are not protected when they donate food. It turns out they are. Alberta has a law called, The Charitable Donation of Food Act, which protects companies who donate food. According to the website, Imagine Canada, most other provinces do as well. So liability is not the issue. I suspect it is a matter of convenience. When volunteer organizations come to collect the “unsellable food” companies willingly donate it. It seems companies such as Walmart just can’t be bothered to take the “unsellable food” to the charitable organizations. At least that’s my take.
The reality is food waste is an astronomical problem. The CBC article, Selling unwanted food at a discount, that I referred to earlier says that roughly 1/3 of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted. It also reports that Canadians waste more that $31 billion, yes billion, in food each year. Another statistic reported in the article is that 45% of all fruit and vegetables produced globally are wasted. That is almost half! Much of this produce was wasted because it was deemed imperfect. This is emphatically wrong! This much food wasted is simply ethically and morally wrong when there are so many starving people on this planet. It’s time we are part of the solution rather than part of the problem, even if that is purchasing “imperfect produce” creating a demand for the product and thereby reducing waste. To quote Eldridge Cleaver, an American writer and political activist, “There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” Please, do your part to reduce the corrupt waste of food. Be part of the solution!