Sometimes yes, but mostly no. I hasten to add that it’s not a matter of the stores being mean… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a food bank or a charity organization tell me they don’t want what I’ve had to give.
In the cases where it does happen, a relationship has been forged by the two organizations. As an example, a charity called Second Harvest sent trucks to collect prepared foods from Loblaws stores in Toronto to redistribute to those less fortunate. The foods they pick up are still good for the day, but would have been thrown out by the store. My information may be a bit out of date – the last time I was in a Loblaws store in an official capacity was in 2005 – but it was a great example of the type of relationship that allowed highly perishable food items to avoid the garbage can.
Most stores, though, do end up throwing them out. Most cities and towns don’t have a charity that’s set up to be able to get food to people the same day.
The same is true with produce items. Once they’re no longer fit for the produce shelf, they don’t have very long before they’re not fit for consumption. Produce ends up in a green bin, where it’s taken by a commercial waste company. From there, it’s sold to (usually pig) farmers or to composters.
While the waste of food doesn’t sit well with many people, me included, there simply isn’t much choice. If there’s no waste, it means the store was likely out of product. Most consumers find that even less acceptable than waste. Stores also can’t store food that’s going off… It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that it’s against the government rules.
The good thing is that stores work as hard as they can to keep waste at a minimum. It’s not for altruistic reasons… every bit of product the store throws away is money going into the garbage. Most stores require that staff log every product they throw out, and staff in highly perishable departments (like a hot food counter) have to log what they prepare and put out so that it can be compared to what ends up in the trash and improvements can be made.
One area that has greatly improved is the dry grocery department. Every store I’ve worked for recently uses a reclaim service. These companies come into the stores and take a tally of all of the damaged products that have been set aside. They give the store a credit for a portion of the cost of the tallied products and take them away. The reclaim company secures a payment from each of the product manufacturers and then separates the products into those that need to be thrown away and those that can be donated.
From past experience, I can tell you that the food banks only want food that’s still good enough to sell, and that’s not usually the food that the stores are trying to donate.
PS Most grocery companies donate large amounts of food and money to charity through Head Office programs as well…
PPS When I worked for Vachon, a pig farmer used to ask for a bin of expired Jos Louis, Passion Flakies, Twinkies etc… the most disturbing part for me was that the farmer didn’t require us to remove the wrappers – the pigs ate them wrapper and all!