Maybe there’s a use for expired milk and brown bananas after all: A plan by Trader Joe’s former president, Doug Rauch, would turn expired food into cheap and nutritious meals, according to a story from National Public Radio.
The retail concept, which Rauch calls The Daily Table, would involve preparing and reselling edible food slightly past its sell-by date at superlow prices. The market, aimed at lower-income consumers in the Boston area, will open early next year in Dorchester, Mass., according to NPR.
The idea, perhaps unappetizing to some, taps into a larger issue: Food waste is a huge problem in the United States.
According to a recent report from Harvard and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), it’s estimated that as much as 40 percent of food is tossed due to confusion over expiration dates. That’s 160 million pounds of food needlessly thrown away every year.
"Confusion over food expiration dates ― for example, 'best by,' 'use by,' and 'sell by' labels ― is a key cause of the high and rising rates of waste in the United States,” write the report authors in a blog post. “Because of the lack of federal oversight, states regulate the use of these labels in a wide variety of ways, causing great confusion.”
Meanwhile, Rauch told the Boston Globe that 50 million Americans are food insecure, that is, struggling to put food on the table.
“It's the idea about how to bring affordable nutrition to the underserved in our cities. It basically tries to utilize this 40 percent of this food that is wasted,” Rauch told NPR.
The ex-Trader Joe’s head isn’t the only one to tackle the issue of food waste.
Charities tend to accept food that could have been headed for the trash ― and there are plenty of leftovers on college campuses.
A relatively new organization, Food Recovery Network, formed out of the University of Maryland, moves uneaten food from campus cafeterias to local charities that feed the hungry.
“An amazing amount of food gets thrown into a trash can,” Ben Simon, the organization’s founder, told Yahoo News in July. “It evokes a very innate response to jump into action.”
Since September 2011, the nonprofit has diverted over 166,000 pounds of food from landfills and served it to people in need. The organization has plenty of room for growth ― it’s estimated that 75 percent of campuses do not have a food recovery program, according to Simon.
Still, the idea of unsightly food with expired dates may be a concept that’s hard to stomach for some.
"In most cases the 'best by' or 'sell by' dates refer to when the quality of a food will begin to deteriorate,” cookbook author Jessica Harlan told Yahoo News in an email.
"I do like Rauch's goal, however, of helping to bring healthy foods to people who might not be able to afford it otherwise, and I also appreciate the fact that his project will reduce the amount of food that's wasted in this country.” She added, “But truthfully, as a consumer, I don't find the idea very appealing."