I was in a Wal-mart about a year ago, before dawn, to pick up some groceries and walked past the bakery. I stopped and back tracked to watch what was happening.

An employee was looking at different packaged bread then tossing a few here and there into a cart. The cart was pretty well full already and didn't have much room left. Once she packed that cart, she grabbed another one and started filling it with pies, cakes, cookies, etc.

I walked up to her and asked if those items were expired, and she responded that they were. I asked what the store does with them. She replied that they package them all up and toss them in the trash compactor. "Really?" I replied unbelievably. "Yes, she said,  'it sickens me to think how much this store wastes, we don't even give it to a shelter, not even this time of the year."

flickr/cc - Tomi Tapio
It made me wonder that if this was one store, on one night that tossed out 1 1/2 carts full of bakery items. Imagine what all these stores put together throw away in a year! And they go into a trash compactor, so you can't even dumpster dive for the food.

I asked one final question, "If I wanted to buy those, would I get a reduction of price due to the expiration?" She didn't think so, it would have to be run by the management, but seemed unlikely since many others have asked and nothing has been done.

However, since this conversation, it appears Walmart does have a small area in the freezer section where they mark down a few bakery items that are close to expiration (1-2 days away) and they also have some organic bins outside in the back of the store. These bins are supposed to be locked but not all bins have the locks.

Recently I was able to take a look into one of these bins and found them to be as expected, produce items that were in bad shape, but not all of them.  The pineapples looked like they had seen better days, the melons looked ok but I was only interested in the green pepper and the apples.

I grabbed my canvas bag out of my car and tossed in a few Braeburn apples and the green pepper and speed walked to my car so I didn't get into trouble. I was on their property even though they had tossed the food out. This trash bin was full and about a 55 gallon size.

I wanted to call up some Freegans to swoop over and take what they took so the food wouldn't go to waste. And I did try. I looked through Meetup.com for freegans and tried emailing a lady on the site but got no response. Unfortunately, there isn't a regional or city contact for freegans to get the word out on food that is tossed out unless you know someone directly from already being part of the group.

With what I grabbed out of the trash, the 8 apples I picked up would have run about $4 if I bought them in the store and the green pepper ($1) was going to be used on a sandwich for that day. However, after cutting into the pepper, the smell that emanated from the blackened seeds crushed that idea quickly as I'm not as adventurous yet. But the apples have tasted delicious after cutting out the few bad areas! And yes, I rinse the apples thoroughly.

Here is my question to you:
If you didn't know these came from the trash and you pulled them out of the crisper looking like this (pock marks on the apples and bruising on the top of the green pepper as well). Would you have continued to cook and eat them?

11 Comments

  1. Free Stuff // Wednesday, December 08, 2010 8:59:00 AM  

    hello,
    I really enjoyed this article. I'm glad that you didn't have too much Pride to get those freebies.

  2. Beat Mixer // Wednesday, December 08, 2010 9:00:00 AM  

    hello,
    I hate that these mega stores waste so much.

  3. Jill // Wednesday, December 08, 2010 9:22:00 AM  

    Yep. I'd eat them. The amount of waste in this country, and in my own home, is pretty stunning and I'm working on cutting back and using up waste, even others' waste. I haven't pulled food from the bins behind the store yet, but I will one of these days. I live in an area where people salvage roadkill so a little clean dumpster diving for food should not shock folks.

  4. New York cleaning company // Wednesday, December 08, 2010 10:24:00 AM  

    If those came from our crisper, we would also just removed the pockmarked parts of the apple and proceed to eating them (after washing them of course). Also, with our loaf bread if they are going to expire tomorrow, I will beat some eggs, coat the bread with beaten eggs and then fry like french toast.My family loves them and they are consumed faster.

  5. Clair Schwan // Wednesday, December 08, 2010 11:35:00 AM  

    Yes, there's nothing wrong with this food. It's really sad to see employees throwing food away that could be used for other purposes, but lawyers, managers, insurance companies and accountants can give us legitimate reasons for doing so.

    At the bakery store here in Cheyenne, I can go in and get an entire rolling rack filled with baked goods for $10.50 That's enough to completely cover the 8 foot bed of my pickup truck. Many of the items aren't past their sale date, and none are damaged. They provide this material for animal feed. All you have to do is ask ahead of time and take whatever it is they have to offer. I promise you that four people in a month can't eat all of the food that $10.50 can buy at the baked goods store.

    Just think of the economy that one could create by forming a team, and having each member of the team focus on obtaining bulk bargains like this to share with the others. You could probably cut your food costs at least in half.

    Clair Schwan

  6. Dawn // Wednesday, December 08, 2010 2:53:00 PM  

    @free stuff
    I learned to pick through dumpster food thanks to my grandpa.

    @beatmixer
    Everyone is so afraid of being sued or losing a dime from the situation (if I can't make money on them, no one can have them.)

    @ Jill
    You aren't the only one - we had to eat a cup full of radishes so they wouldn't go to waste. No more radishes for me for the rest of the year!

    @NY cleaning co.
    That is a good idea with the bread. Thank you!

    @ Clair
    Hmmm, that is something I will look into, even though it isn't a bakery. Wonder if I have to show proof?

  7. Anonymous // Thursday, December 09, 2010 12:41:00 AM  

    I would eat them but, can it make you sick if they had bacteria in the unclean bin? People do what they have to. They could use it as compost for plants or sell it for compost or slop.

  8. Lulu // Thursday, December 09, 2010 9:22:00 AM  

    While it is sad that the food is being thrown out it is the company policy and not the worker's choice.

    I worked in the food industry and we threw out a lot of food as well because it was cheaper to eat the cost of the expired food than to give it away and have someone sue for getting sick over spoiled food.

    I also just wrote a post about finding expired lobsters at Walmart and watching the employee throw out $600 worth of lobsters right in front of my eyes. If you go to my blog you can read it there.

    I wish more companies would take the initiative to mark down the food when it is close to expiring and that way people will get it before it expires. But then companies are also looking at not getting sued.

  9. Mommy B // Thursday, December 09, 2010 10:40:00 AM  

    Yes. I would clean them with a bit of dish soap, rinse thoroughly, remove the spots and a little from the perimeter, compost those (gotta feed the wormies!), then cook the rest - I would not eat raw though. The apples can go in applesauce, tarts, pies, etc. The peppers and pineapples can go in things cooked.

    I have been an RN for 11 years, and I have seen what food poisioning does. So I would eat it, and I would feed it to my family - just cooked. Save the freshest for raw eating.

  10. KLund // Thursday, December 09, 2010 10:31:00 PM  

    I always think of all the people that could be fed with all the food that is thrown out daily. I have thought of dumpster diving, but all the stores in my area compact their trash. :(

  11. April // Friday, December 10, 2010 5:18:00 AM  

    No problem eating them!

    We have Meijer stores in this area, and they do a great job of deep-discounting produce before dumping it. They have a special rack at the edge of the produce section on which they put the marked-down items. Recent Best Deal: 3 pound bags of organic apples for $1 each--perfect for pies or applesauce.