Shopping by Expiration Date

Why don’t tree huggers buy milk close to expiry?

This is a question that a blogger on CNET Asia asked today. He asked some other questions, too, about “greenies/tree huggers/enviromentalists” that baffle him, but he had a good point with this one.

He observed that tree huggers (not sure how he identified tree huggers from others) reached into the back to find the milk with the latest expiration date instead of picking the milk in the front that would go bad first. Milk past its expiration date will get thrown out, he commented, and he asked, “as someone concerned about the environment, shouldn't you buy the milk with the shortest shelf life remaining so the supermarkets don't need to dump expired milk?”

Yes, I think you should, and I do unless it’s so close to its expiration date that I don’t think my family can finish it.

Food waste is an environmental problem. It’s estimated that more than 30 percent of the food in America gets thrown out. A lot of it is thrown out straight from the grocery store shelves. As “greenies/tree huggers/environmentalists,” we can do something about this.

When we go to the store, we can purposely look for food that’s about to be thrown away and purchase it. Not only will it help the environment, it will help our pocketbooks, too. Milk about to expire doesn’t get marked down, but many other foods do.

Here’s where to look.

The produce department. In my local store, there is a shelf where older or bruised produce is marked down and sold that same day. If it doesn’t get sold that day, it gets thrown away. I always check that shelf when I go to the store. I’ve gotten bags of organic baby carrots for 99 cents, bananas that were perfect for banana bread for 19 cents a pound, and apples for apple sauce for half of what regular apples cost. If it’s something that you can use quickly, it’s worth buying.

The meat department. I always look in the meat department for “manager’s specials.” Meat that has a “sell by” date of that day will often get marked down at a deep discount. The trick is to either use it that night or freeze it immediately. While, I try to buy natural or organic meats on a regular basis, I’ll frequently buy “manager’s specials” that aren’t natural or organic. Sure it was created in less than perfect environmental conditions, but I think it’s worse to let it go completely to waste.

The bakery department. Just like in the produce section, my local grocery store has a shelf dedicated to older breads and baked goods that are usually marked down to 99 cents. I always check this shelf out, too. The “artisinal” Italian breads that usually cost $4.99 a loaf are easily brought back to life in the oven with a pan of water to help create some moisture. Other breads that are going stale work really well in overnight French toast type dishes.

The dairy department. This is the one place where the foods usually don’t get marked down. Once they hit their expiration date, they get tossed. If you are concerned about food waste, it’s helpful to look at the dates of the products you’re going to buy. Buy the ones with the closest expiration dates as long as you know you’ll use them before they go bad.

These may seem like small things. You may only walk out of the store each week with one product that is close to being tossed. But if everyone made it a practice to check these foods out when they shop, a lot of them could get saved from the dumpster.

Image: Tuchodi