Is Food Passed Its Sell-By Date Okay?

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Marion Nestle, professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, and professor of Sociology at New York University, discusses the new Urban Food Initiative in Boston--and whether it's okay to serve meals cooked with food passed its sell-by date to low-income consumers.


Marion Nestle

Comments [20]

pcioffi from NY

It goes without saying that we need to fix the food distribution problems in our country. That said, it has yet to happen, and until it does, there need to be creative solutions. No one has mentioned those who aren't poor enough to qualify for free food, or are too proud to accept it. There used to be a store in Brattleboro, VT called Boston Market (not connected to the rotissarie chicken chain) that sold food past its 'sell by' date, as well as food that had been rejected by supermarkets (dented cans and cereal boxes...). It was a tremendous help to those who didn't qualify for food stamps, worked hard, but still struggled to feed their families.

Mar. 05 2013 07:58 PM
Larry levine from New York City

For the past 19 years, my wife and I have operated a not-for-profit called Kids Can Make A Difference (KIDS) an educational program for middle- and high school students, that focuses on the root causes of hunger and poverty, the people most affected, solutions, and how students can help. The major goal is to stimulate the students to take some definite follow-up actions as they begin to realize that one person can make a difference.

As all of us are aware, food and the distribution of food is one of the major causes of hunger and poverty. Are we now going to tell young people that it is right for some in our world to purchase food that is deemed safe and others must pay for food of doubtful quallity and benefit.

How (and should we) tell young people that this is right and fair.

I sure don't think that is what we should be teaching them.

Mar. 05 2013 12:15 PM

Having grown up poor, my mom is a mold-whisperer of sorts, and I'm very impressed with how much food is good waaaay past its date, and I'm grateful to her for teaching me when to know the difference. Poor people know they're poor, need the food, and should have more/equal access to healthy food options at attainable prices. Period. If this means "priced for quick sale" sections in all grocers, then at least it opens options to those in need.

Mar. 05 2013 11:58 AM
Bonn from East Village

When I was volunteering at a Sandy relief center, I noticed that some of the donated canned food had expiration dates. I think if it's within a few months, it's all right. As long as the can is not bloated, black or rusted, like the cans in a hoarder friend's apartment, which I made him throw out! They were years old.

Mar. 05 2013 11:58 AM
john from office

Up in the Bronx and upper Manhattan, people are sold expired food all the time. It is a class issue.

I now believe we have a right to food, Romney's statement that people felt entitled to "FOOD", really turned my head.

Mar. 05 2013 11:57 AM
Noach (Independent, Anti-Corporate Traditionalist) from Brooklyn

I just cited Marion Nestle on the comments page for Lopate's "Food Friday" segment with Dr. Drew Ramsey:

Let me take this opportunity to inform people that Dr. Ramsey actually came back and responded to a number of the comments on the page, in a post he made on Saturday (and, after that, responded to the follow-up I had posted)

Mar. 05 2013 11:57 AM
sp from Manhattan

I received food from a food bank once, and it was all TERRIBLE!!! The generic cornflakes were stale, the canned vegetables were all high sodium which I wouldn't give my family under normal circumstances, and the cans actually started to rust, disintegrate and leak in my kitchen cupboard! Almost everything we were given sat uneaten because it was just BAD and I threw it all out. I think the only thing edible was huge cans of pineapple chunks, which we never buy usually, and since there's only two of us, we had to eat a LOT of canned pineapple for a couple of days--not good for a toddler's digestive system! There was no rice, no pasta, no fresh produce, nothing you'd want to feed your family in a healthy, well-balanced, tasty way.

Mar. 05 2013 11:56 AM
Geoff from West Orange

Instead of distributing food past its "sell-by date" why not slap a "1 day left" label on it a day before it the day before it expires and find a way to means-test its sale?

Mar. 05 2013 11:54 AM


Mar. 05 2013 11:53 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

"Buying milk by its sell by date and it's pretty spoiled by then"

That is such an inaccurate statement.

Mar. 05 2013 11:52 AM
tom from astoria

I am right now eating an "expired" grapefruit. I go to a supermarket a little further away just to get to their produce dept because they sell at a huge discount older fruits and vegetables. I think a lot of fruit is actually BETTER when it has been given enough time to ripen -- you just have to be extra cautious. Example:old tomatoes to make sauce.

Mar. 05 2013 11:52 AM
Robert from NYC

...and if it's dated a year does that mean it's still good after 8 months!!! Not only passed but before. Because as you yourself state the milk is usually gone or going bad before the sell date and carrots e.g,, sometimes wilted before.

Mar. 05 2013 11:52 AM
The Truth from Becky

For some it is sell by date, for the lower price or cat food..sad

Mar. 05 2013 11:51 AM
Jeff Peachey

Food Scientist Harold McGee (author of "On Food and Cooking" claims expired canned food can actually taste better. See yesterdays Slate:

Mar. 05 2013 11:49 AM
Robert from NYC

Not to sell even at a discount and MAYBE to donate but with a warning that the date is expired and may be not only stale but not perfect. One should check before eating, e.g, smell, small taste to tongue, looks, even touch.

Mar. 05 2013 11:37 AM
Jef from Princeton

The problem with soup kitchens and feeding programs (and I've worked for more than one) is that they basically replicate the poor diet that the poor already eat. Salty, starchy foods that are cheap to make because feeding programs are all on very limited budgets. Just like poor people. If the goal is to feed the poor anything we can, then the sell by date is the least of our worries. If the goal is to feed them good quality fresh food, with the idea that we will elevate their health standard and save money on the back end not having to pay for their diabetes, cardiovascular, and obesity problems later on, then the sell by date is something to concern ourselves with.

Listening to the producers and director of "A Place at the Table" last week got me thinking about the diet of poor and struggling folks in this country. I think we need to have a Meals on Wheels program for the poor, so that parents who are working often 2 jobs can have healthy prepared meals provided for them. This was the solution to the crisis in senior malnutrition that we faced 35 years ago and Meals on Wheels really helped that problem. We didn't give the seniors healthy ingredients and say "cook a healthy meal", we gave them dinner. This is what we need to do to help the poor raise their standard of health. We need free after school programs to teach kids to cook healthy since we no longer have Home Ec. And my personal dream--we need to pull eminent domain on McDonald's, replace them with government subsidized fast food stores called Good to Go, selling government subsidized organic, fresh food.

Mar. 05 2013 11:21 AM
Bettina from Manhattan

Trader Joes already distributes foods which have passed, reached or are close to their sell by dates to churches to be distributed. People get on these long lines early and are happy with what they get. Many stores offer reduced for quick sale items, especially fruits and vegetables which might be a bit bruised or where the packages have been torn, which are a blessing for those who can't afford the perfect items. I see no problem with this as long as the foods have been properly stored. The sell by or use by dates suggest prime quality by those dates, not spoilage or discard.

Mar. 05 2013 11:16 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

"Sell by" is different from "use by." I prefer "use by" as it's less subjective.

I believe - "when in doubt - throw out." That being said, humans have a nose for a reason - they should use and trust it more.

Mar. 05 2013 10:21 AM
Eric from Manhattan

Two weeks ago I bought a package of a supermarket brand muenster cheese, and it tasted fine. After eating the first slice I looked at the expiration date (which I usually do before purchase, but I forgot this time) and it was July 18, 2012. But it was OK and so rather than waste it I eventually ate the entire package.

Mar. 05 2013 10:00 AM

My number one reason for buying milk, eggs, chicken and produce at my local farm stand?

The "Picked on" date replaces the "Sell by" date.

(Once I saw two fresh chickens side by side, killed about the same day, one Stop and Shop "Natural" and the other, some organic brand. The "Stop and Shop" sell by date was two weeks further in the future. The response to this by the appropriate USDA official, when I contacted him: "When I buy chicken I trust only my abattoir." We barely eat meat anymore, partly because the official who administered the "sell by" does not trust the sell-by scheme.)

Mar. 05 2013 09:42 AM

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