Thursday, March 3, 2011

Public Service Announcement

I have a wish for the world. It's a small wish - a simple wish. I wish that consumers would realize that not only is leaving perishable food items at the grocery store out in a non-refrigerated area, or sticking fresh produce in the freezer tantamount to stealing, but it is also laughing in the face of starving people in their community.

When you pick up a bag of fresh spinach, then decide to get the bag of frozen spinach instead and then leave the fresh spinach in the freezer to freeze, we employees have to throw that fresh spinach away. In the garbage. You may as well have stuck the fresh spinach in your bag and stolen it outright. If you had handed to an employee instead and said, "I'm sorry, I changed my mind and I no longer want this spinach," it could have been put back on the proper shelf and sold to someone who did want it. Or, if it didn't sell in the right amount of time, it would have been donated to this wonderful organization called Food Gatherers.

To quote their website: Food Gatherers exists to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in our community by: reducing food waste through the rescue and distribution of food; coordinating with other hunger relief providers; educating the public about hunger; and developing new food resources.

But when you, the consumer, destroy food by freezing it or allowing it to thaw (I regularly find frozen fish hiding on the grocery shelves which must be thrown away immediately), you are robbing these people of the chance to help  the people of our community who maybe aren't as fortunate as you. And that's purely selfish.

When you place an item in your cart, you are not under contract to buy that item. You are allowed to change your mind. You are more than welcome to take an item out of your cart and hand it to a store employee - the cashier at check-out, for example - and tell them that you have changed your mind and no longer want to buy the item. You do not need to hide the item behind other items on the shelves when no one is looking. We are not going to force you to buy the item whether you like it or not.

Things I routinely find discarded on the grocery shelves that could have been saved, but instead were thrown in the trash because of some irresponsible consumer: raw chicken, eggs, milk, fish. I find fresh produce in the freezer on a daily basis - endives, strawberries, salad, the list goes on - that freezes, rendering the food rotten in many cases (fresh plants do not enjoy being frozen - they shrivel) and not only unsellable, but inedible. Hundreds of dollars worth of perfectly good food goes into the garbage dumpster every day because of someone's laziness.

I don't think it's too much to ask every consumer to take just a few seconds of responsibility and turn over your unwanted food items to a store employee. You are not only saving the store money by not stealing from them, but you are helping your hungry neighbors. I actually prefer the customers who outright steal from us. At least then I know that the food is going to good use rather than a landfill.

A great book on the subject of wasted food is American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) by Jonathan Bloom, who also runs a blog called Wasted Food. Last year, while I was still living in California, I also read a fantastic article entitled Food waste remains persistent problem at farms, grocery stores and restaurants. I happen to work for a grocery store that does donate its "spoileds," but only the ones that haven't gone bad on their own (meat that's turning, for example) or been ruined by neglectful, lazy customers who can't be bothered to take the extra three seconds at check-out to hand their unwanted perishable goods to the cashier.

How you can help: 

1) Don't do it! Don't leave perishable items in inappropriate places. Either hand the item to an employee or, if you're feeling really adventurous, put it back where you found it yourself.

2) Now I know this is asking a lot, but if you see someone place something in the freezer that doesn't belong there, pick it up and place it on the shelf above the freezer so it doesn't freeze. No, that item is not your responsibility, it's the responsibility of the ass-hat who put it there, but think of it as a public service and pat yourself on the back for the good deed you've just done by rescuing that food from the jaws of death.

3) If you find frozen items thawing on the shelf, it's probably too late for them, so all you can really do is notify a store employee and they will throw it in the trash for you. If it does seem to still be frozen solid, it might have a chance, so still notify an employee and they can take care of it as they see fit. (Though honestly, it will still probably be thrown in the trash no matter what. Frozen items found outside of the freezer are thrown away as a matter of policy because we never know how long it has been there or if it has gone bad.)

When I worked at a previous grocery store, I often found cans of vegetables hidden in the freezer case, though that doesn't seem to be a problem at this store. I also once found a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke that had frozen solid and separated out. The manager told me to put it back on the shelf because it would thaw, but really, frozen pop should be spoiled and thrown away. It changes the taste of the beverage because pop isn't really meant to be frozen.

So there you have it, my small attempt at educating the public and asking everyone to be a little more responsible with their grocery shopping. If you want to steal from the company by dumping our stuff in the trash, fine, I can't stop you, but I only ask that you think of the hungry family that could have eaten that spoiled item. How awful would you feel if you couldn't feed your children? And then how grateful when someone was kind enough to help you do so?

1 comment:

  1. It's really great that your firm is putting edible but no longer "best" goods out to folks who really need the help.

    It may be most places are just quick about it, but it's been the dry goods that I saw out of place. I never thought someone would put non-frozen things into the freezer. The fish revelation is especially shocking.