Can’t Eat It, Can’t Sell It, What Do You Do?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I went to the refrigerator this morning to pour myself a glass of orange juice, I noticed a label near the top of the container that read “Sell by Sep 10.” I looked around and found a similar label on the milk that read “Jul 29” and on the eggs “Jun 26.”

Most U.S. food producers (people who prepare food for sale) place labels like these on on their perishable (food that may become bad quickly) and canned (food that is processed and placed in metal containers) foods. Fresh (recently picked or prepared) meat and produce (fruits and vegetables) don’t usually get labels because people eat them soon after they buy them.

Food labels aren’t required by the government. Food producers use them to help customers know when the food is fresh and safe to eat. Typically (the way something usually happens) there are three kinds of labels:

  •  “Sell by” labels, the most common, refer to the last day a store should sell the product. As the sell-by date nears, stores usually move these products to the front of the shelf so customers will buy them before the date on the label. Even if the date has passed, these foods are usually safe to eat for up to 10 days after the sell-by date if they’re stored properly. Meat and poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.) can be stored even longer if they’re frozen.
  • “Use by” identifies the last day that the product will be fresh and have good flavor and texture (how something feels). After this date, the food is still safe to eat, but it may not taste as good.
  • The “Expiration date” label on a food product has a simple message: if the date has passed, don’t use it.

What happens if the sell-by or use-by dates pass and no one has bought the products? Since most foods are safe to eat even after they begin to lose their flavor, stores try to find alternative (other) uses for them. According to an article in Forbes, fresh vegetables and meats may be cooked and sold at the store’s deli (delicatessen), where they sell cold cuts (thinly cut pieces of cooked meat that are eaten cold), special cheeses, and salads and other prepared foods.

Canned, boxed, and bottled products are frequently sold to discount stores, where you’ll find outdated (old; after the date) but usable cans of soup, boxes of cereal, and bottles of ketchup and salad dressing. Many stores donate (give) outdated products to food banks (organizations that give food to poor and out-of-work people) and soup kitchens (organizations that prepare meals for homeless people).

In spite of (without being affected by) stores’ attempts to sell or give away food products while they’re still usable, some food still becomes unusable and must be thrown away. In short, it becomes garbage.

Some stores haul (transport by truck) this unusable food to a landfill (a place where waste is buried in the ground), where it decays (is slowly destroyed by a natural process) and releases methane (a burnable gas) into the air, which contributes to (helps cause) global warming. Many stores send their food waste (something that can’t be used) to plants (place where something is made) where it is converted (changed into something different) into compost, a mixture of natural products used to make soil better for gardening and farming.

Krogers, one of the largest supermarket companies in the U.S., has an even better idea. Not too long ago, they demonstrated (showed how something works) a plant in the city of Compton, near Los Angeles, that makes them the first company to convert food waste into electricity.

At this plant, the waste is pulverized (crushed into tiny pieces) and mixed with waste water from a nearby dairy (farm that produces milk) to make what one executive calls “a ‘juicy milkshake’ of trash.” This mixture is pumped into a large tank (large container for storing liquid or gas), and the oxygen in the tank is pumped out. Bacteria (very small living things) in the tank convert the mixture into methane gas, which rises to the top of the tank. The methane is taken from the tank and used to power three nearby generators (machines that produce electricity).

Krogers’ first plant produces enough electricity to power 2,000 homes. And the solid material that is left over becomes enough organic (natural; made from living things) fertilizer to feed 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of soil for farming and gardening.

In addition to the electrical power and fertilizer produced by the plant, Kroger says this process will reduce (make smaller) its waste by 150 tons (130 metric tons) a day. Since the plant produces no bad odors, it can be located in the city, and there is no need for Krogers’ trucks to make six trips a day – nearly 500,000 miles a year (805,000 km) – to haul the waste to the nearest composting plant.

Eventually (after a period of time), Krogers expects this project to save the company 110 million dollars. They’re so confident (sure it will happen the way they want) in this plan that they’re already planning more plants in the Los Angeles area and other locations across the country.

~ Warren Ediger – English coach/tutor and creator of Successful English, where you will find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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13 Responses to Can’t Eat It, Can’t Sell It, What Do You Do?

  1. Sanaz says:

    I love the idea! Making electricity from wastes, saving our planet, saving money and energy. That’s really great!!

    Thank you for sharing it, Warren!

  2. Yuri says:

    Oh! Don’t worry about pollution! There is beautiful solution of this problem in famous Futurama- we’ll send all our garbage in Space 🙂 But seriously. Did you see what’s happening with forests in Amazonia? Or in Siberia? Those are real problems!

  3. Dan says:

    Hello everyone.

    I do not know, I am kind of puzzled here.

    It looks like one of those ideas that looks smart and stupid at the same time.

    I mean, if that is temporary, till we get better solar panels, that is ok.

    I would like to see solar panels everywhere: covering cars, roofs, everything. We have Solar energy raining down from the sky, and is free!

    We can’t overproduce food and then say: Look, it is waste lets burn it! I mean, Just produce less of it.

    Let’s admit it, we eat way more than what we need, just eat less.

    So, lets try to produce the right amount of food then we do not have the problem of handling the waste.

    That to me seems reasonable. What do you guys think?


  4. parviz says:

    Dear warren,
    Thank you again for this great topic.
    Not too long ago, I read a book that described problem-solving bestowed to the human being.
    No matter how much of the visible resources have been used, the writer said, we can still make more things from the invisible stuff. Then he added, “Do not look at the exhaustible visible stuff, instead always look at the unseen intelligence, which is all created for you, and ready to take form as you think it to be”.
    Sine few years ago, I have tried to commit this quote to my mind. It has loosened thing up for me times and times. When I face a problem or I am short of something, I know that this is just the appearance, and in truth there is no scarcity or problem. And then I try to find a way for my problem, And I am happy to say that, there always a WAY most often than not.
    A truck load of Thanks,

  5. Peter says:

    What is the catch ?
    All we ‘r hearing here is the perks of some newly break-through method of turning seemingly biodegradable waste food into some useful soil fertilizers ,manure, and most importantly electricity for approximately 2000 household.
    I must say , Wow !!!
    We finally did it , and barely people know about it z I mean , no media coverage. I mean No one called in media corps to make a head line about it.
    If the method has been so successful , how come it hasn’t panned out yet ? how come it has not included a larger scale. How come such initiative hasn’t been acknowledged by nations throughout the world ,and hasn’t pioneered a whole new school of though regarding waste management.

    The point I m trying to bring home here is : the news is huge. It as huge as when Edison first discovered electricity.
    I mean Duh , We are living in the world almost crippled by the prevailing consuming life style we are all so used to. Everyday , We introduce tons of garbage to the environment that our lives so depends on it. And then, all of sudden, there is just a fluff that some individuals or compony pioneering a method that can convert all the wast products into some form of usable energy and still no one has come forward to make it a universal thing. It makes me wonder: ” why is it ? ”
    Common , be realistic !!
    Think about it
    There must be some downside to it otherwise officials would had gone gung-ho on it by now.

    Dear warren,

    What is the catch ? It could be a great topic for an upcoming post, couldn’t be?


  6. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Very important subject, indeed. How it is important to respect enviroment, to make sure the waste doesn’t turn into something bad-smell, to avoid something infectious. Everyone should know how to dump garbage correctly. Landfill is not a good idea. Additionally, eating food after the date they become rotten isn’t good for health.
    Aecio from beautiful Brazil.

  7. Wilmer Polo says:

    Hello everyone,
    The idea is good as long as they try to preserve the environment. But unfortunately, they are looking the way to be more profitable. In other words , they don’t care about sustainable envelopment, they are using their power and resources to become richer.

  8. Lassana says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for this interesting topic, it´s amazing to produce electricity with food waste.
    I had never heard that it´s possible to produce electricity in this way.

    Moreover, this process contributes to have less of pollution in the air and under the soil.

    Countries which are developped have to carry out this kind of process because that is very good for our planet, for farming and gardening.

    See you soon.

  9. Tania says:

    Hi! Many new phrases to me in the food product field.
    I think we use only the “Expiration date” label on a food product.
    One of the most difficult problems for the mankind: the garbage. Trying to find solutions, even if they seem to be unreliable for the moment, this is the key for the future.

    Opening the “article in Forbes” I have found out a site [link removed] regarding a brain training program to improve our brain health.
    I would like to try this program.
    Thank you.

  10. Dan says:

    Hi Tania

    I let you know that my brain is healthy and perfectly working. It does not need improvement 😉

    Does yours? 🙂 just kidding

  11. Tania says:

    Hi! I think everyone must maintain his brain in a good shape taking into account we are older and older with every day passing by.
    But I know you are joking, Dan, aren’t you?

  12. Betty says:

    Dear Warren

    Thank you so much for once again wake me up from my dream with your excellent article about what’s happening in this world.

    I really miss the old days when the world is a lot simpler.

    There was never any problem of having too much of anything.

    The excess of food demonstrates to us a tip of the iceberg of the problem in this new world.

    We have excess of clothes, drug, books, people, cars, ……….

    Many thanks again, Warren, I look forward to reading your next articles. They are always so stimulating!

    Best Regards

    Betty 🙂

  13. Wang says:

    Dear Jeff,

    You know what? this is the first time I heard of these concepts…Don’t take it wrong, I know what the expire date means but for the others…

    In my country, we don’t categorize stuffs into sell-by and use-by, when there are those teeny printed numbers on a carton, tubes, package

    it would mean, only mean If I would say, the expiration!…I don’t see the point of having sell-by and use-by? why people always wanna complicate matters further?

    Why they don’t just put on the containers just the expiring ones? come to think of it, as a consumer, will it really be in need for me to know the other dates?

    Whenever I go into a shop, I just wanna by things that are still at their peak quality…of course if I’d like those are as affordable as i can stand…even the ones who come to

    salvage stores, they also want things that are harmless to feed their hungry stomach…so why we need to care about it? I don’t want to turn the idea of getting half the price down

    If those products are going to be on salvage store’s shelves, I have to admit that I like the idea too, but just let the shop owners deal with the producers, supermarket’s managers…

    you know, it’s just not our business…so that is my view!

    Best regard!


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