Shopping cart in a grocery store

What Do Grocery Stores Do With Expired Food?

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Whenever we need any kind of food, we know that our favourite grocery store will offer us an abundance of options. Shelves stocked with canned food as far as the eye can see, rows of fresh produce, and so much more fill grocery stores at any given time. Still, all food will eventually expire, leaving us to wonder, “What do grocery stores do with expired food?”.

To prevent wastage, grocery stores may sell off items about to expire at a significant discount. Grocery stores also donate them to soup kitchens and food banks to benefit the less fortunate. Some unpackaged food might also be disposed of in farms and used as animal feed. Of course, some of that expired food will end up in the garbage nonetheless.

In the following sections, we’ll take a closer look at how grocery stores and supermarkets deal with expired food. As you’ll soon discover, most supermarkets try their best to avoid wasting any of that food entirely and only throw it in the trash as a last resort.

Keep on reading!

4 Things Grocery Stores Do With Expired Food

1. Quick Sales

Contrary to what some people might believe, grocery stores do keep a close eye on their products’ expiration dates. That’s why when they know that some items are about to expire, they typically run quick sales and slap significant discounts on them! In that way, the store tries to make those products more attractive to buyers before they pass their expiration date.

Many grocery stores and supermarkets even have clearance corners where they place all of these kinds of items, making it easier for buyers to see them.

Still, this idea of putting about-to-expire items on sale isn’t limited to packaged goods. Items like fresh produce and bread are often sold at much lower prices as they begin to lose their freshness.

Bonus Tip: Buy Baked Goods At Night

As mentioned before, offering heavy discounts on items that are about to expire is a widespread practice, especially when it comes to baked goods. That’s something you can take advantage of every day by shopping for bread, pastries, and even pizzas at night.

Rather than throw them away, shops often run ‘happy hour’ type of promotions where baked goods are sometimes even 50% off. So, if you love eating baked goods, that’s a total steal!

2. Donate To Soup Kitchens And Food Banks

Soup kitchen

When it comes to food that has already passed its expiration date, one of the most popular options for grocery stores is to donate them directly to soup kitchens and food banks. In many cases, local grocery stores deliberately form partnerships with these organisations to ensure that their food reaches those who need it the most. That might include the city’s poor, homeless, and anyone else living in shelters.

Those community partnerships between grocery stores and local charitable organisations help minimise wastage while also providing aid to the needy. The grocery store may arrange to transport the expired food directly to the organisations using their company vehicles. The organisations may even pick the items up themselves.

Bonus Tip: Packaged Food Is Still Safe To Eat After Its Expiration Date

Here’s an important lesson that can benefit you at home. Packaged food, like those in cans, are still safe to eat even after its expiration date. 

As long as the cans are still in good condition, free from dents, leaks, or mould, the food inside can be safe to eat for years after that date!

Donating Expired Food To Charities Is Sometimes Required By Law

In some locations, grocery stores and supermarkets are required by law to donate expired food to charitable organisations instead of throwing them out.

France is a perfect example of this. Since 2016, the country has banned large grocery stores and supermarkets from throwing out expired food. Instead, these stores must donate them to local charities to help those in need.

As a result of such laws in France and other places worldwide, grocery stores and supermarkets have developed and refined their standard operating procedures to ensure that expired food doesn’t go to waste.

3. Disposal To Farms

Packaged food is usually still safe to eat even after it’s passed the expiration date. However, the same isn’t true for fresh and unpackaged items such as fruits, vegetables, and even meats and fish.

For these kinds of expired food items, another option for some grocery stores is to work with nearby farms. Those items can be used as animal feed for consumption by pigs, chicken, and any other animals that might live on that farm.

Pigs, for examples, are probably the least picky eaters when it comes to farm animals. Farmers may combine expired food with their existing feed to keep their animals well-fed. With little wastage, the farmers, grocery stores, and animals are happy, making this a win-win-win for everyone involved.

Of course, this isn’t an option available everywhere, and distance can be a significant limitation. 

You see, some grocery stores may find themselves too far away from any farms that might accept expired food. That far distance would result in much higher transportation costs, making donating that expired food far too expensive. 

In cases like this, throwing the food away might be the only viable option for the grocery store.

4. Throw Out Into The Garbage

Throwing food

Nobody likes to waste expired food, not even grocery stores. Unfortunately, there are many situations where that’s simply not avoidable.

Some grocery stores find it impossible to sell expired food items at a steep discount, even in the biggest cities. Plus, giving it away to charities or farms might also be impossible, or it might cost too much money for them to do.

When all other options have been exhausted, the only thing left for a grocery store to do is to throw that food out in the garbage.

As unfortunate as that might sound, there is a silver lining in all of it. Grocery stores keep track of which products they’re forced to throw out, and it helps them plan better for the future.

For example, suppose they know that a particular food product doesn’t sell very well, even when they try to get rid of it at a discount. In that case, they’ll know to order less of it in the future. By learning from this, stores can stock their shelves with items that sell better and reduce wastage overall.

Frequently Asked Questions

The challenge of dealing with expired food does not have a straightforward solution. So, people are often left with many questions about why grocery stores handle expired foods in specific ways.

Here are some of those frequently asked questions.

Why Can’t Grocery Stores Sell Expired Food?

Generally, there are two reasons why grocery stores refuse to sell food items that have passed their expiration date, even though the food inside is still safe to eat.

Firstly, it’s a matter of liability. Suppose a grocery store knowingly sells an expired food item, resulting in a person getting food poisoning. In that case, the store could be held legally responsible and get sued as a result.

Besides that, it’s often against the law to sell expired food no matter the condition of the food items in the packaging.

So, to avoid getting sued or receiving hefty fines, grocery stores are forced not to sell expired food under any circumstances.

Is it safe to eat expired packaged food?

Yes! As mentioned earlier, you can still consume packaged food even after its expiration date. Of course, that depends on the condition of the packaging. Dented cans, or those with leaks or mould growing on them, are not safe to eat at all.

However, items that are still in perfectly preserved cans can be safe to eat for many years past their expiration date.

Why do grocery stores throw away expired items?

Grocery stores will still throw away expired items if they have no other option. 

Sometimes, giving it away to charity is not possible. It might be that there are no soup kitchens, shelters, or other charities nearby. When the closest charities are too far away, transporting the expired food items to them might get too expensive, making the entire effort not worth the cost.

Besides that, some grocery stores might choose to avoid even the most remote possibility of getting sued. Their concern could be that if a charity distributed the expired food and someone fell sick from consuming it, the grocery store could be held responsible.

So, to avoid any problems, the ‘safest’ option (in their eyes) could be to just throw the expired food items away.

Are there laws to stop grocery stores from throwing out expired items?

Yes! In many places around the world, throwing away expired food items is illegal. Instead, grocery stores, like those in France, are legally required to donate the food that they can’t sell.


Wasted food is a global problem. But when it comes to grocery stores and supermarkets, most of them are responsible enough to try their best to avoid wasting expired food. Some may try to sell it off as best as possible, but failing that, they might then try to give it to charities or nearby farms.

Only when all options are exhausted, do they then resort to throwing out those items and ordering less of them in the future.

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