A short rant about food waste

How do you feel about food waste?

I was in my local Co-op over Christmas, picking up a few emergency food bits. You know how it gets at Christmas – you feel like you have loads of food in the house, but when you actually look, it’s mainly crackers and cheese, and there are only so many meals you can have that for before your blood starts to feel a bit sticky. So, I was going to do some jacket potatoes, and had picked up a bag that was half price. Nice.

(I always look at the reduced things in supermarkets – partly just because I am tight but also because I hate food waste. I had some ancient couscous with fried yellow pepper and bendy celery for my lunch yesterday just because it all needed using up. That’s commitment.)

food waste

I took my bargain potatoes to the checkout, but when the woman serving me scanned them, the till beeped ominously.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I can’t sell you these, the date on them was yesterday.”

“That’s alright,” I said, “I don’t mind.”

“No I’m sorry,” she said, “the till won’t let me sell them to you.”

I looked at the till. It didn’t look especially fearsome.

“But that’s ridiculous,” I said, “what are you going to do with them?”

“It’s company policy,” she said, “what if something were to happen?”

“What is going to happen with a potato?!” I asked, getting annoyed.

“I am very sorry,” she carried on, looking anything but, “but we can not sell them to you.”

“Can you give them to me?” I asked hopefully. “As a festive gift?”

She raised her eyebrows. “No,” she said, looking done with the whole conversation, “we have to put them in the bin.”

“In the bin?!”

I was fighting a losing battle, but as a prime example of unnecessary food waste it made me so cross. Here was a bag of perfectly good baking potatoes – at least eight of them – that were just going to be thrown away because of some arbitrary best before date that Co-op had made up in the first place. If it had been a bag of raw prawns or something I can see that they might need to be a bit more cautious, but potatoes?!

Fruit and veg doesn’t come off a tree or out of the ground with a sell by date. We’re not idiots – we can look at a vegetable and know if it’s past its best and perhaps needs to be quickly turned into a soup. A potato that was lying quite happily one day on the shelf isn’t suddenly going to become rabid over night and form the basis of an expensive law suit.

“I’m suing you Co-op! You sold me a potato that was one day past a random best before date and the very next day my legs fell off.”

It’s just not going to happen.

What’s especially annoying is that they don’t actually need to put dates on the fruit and vegetables at all. Loose produce at the greengrocer doesn’t have dates does it? We do most of our shopping at Aldi, and they don’t have dates either. It’s a small thing, but it means you don’t get people throwing out perfectly good food just because the bag or the till tells them they should. Since when did we lose this aspect of independent thought?

Come on Co-op, sort yourselves out.



  1. 6 January, 2014 / 11:16 am

    What on EARTH?!?

    This makes me so cross! Although I suspect it is largely a result of this blame culture we seem to have going on now because some people sue for everything.

    • admin
      6 January, 2014 / 11:41 am

      I can sort of see that Rachel once they have put the dates on things – but just so frustrating as they don’t need to do it in the first place!

  2. 6 January, 2014 / 11:21 am

    Ah! A topic close to my heart! I have ranted about this on a number of occasions. You should have STOLEN THEM :)

    • admin
      6 January, 2014 / 11:41 am

      I did go and have a nose round the back Kathie but it looks like they lock up their bins? I’d be well up for some skip diving though if you ever fancy it!

  3. 6 January, 2014 / 11:40 am

    Part of me is fuming at this, part of me thinks you should have offered to their then away for the Co op. ;)

  4. Karen Lowe
    6 January, 2014 / 12:00 pm

    They damned if they do,damned if they dont!! If they did sell them to you and you took them home,ate them a month later then got ill and sued them then there is the problem. Thats is also the reason they lock their skips.
    They have a strict protocol to follow. In my old restaurant I ahd to get diners to sign a disclaimer if they took leftovers home and the staff too to protect myself! Until we get rid of the stupid claim culture and ineffective health and safety it will always be like this.

  5. 6 January, 2014 / 12:17 pm

    Our local supermarket bags up all fresh veggie produce that is to be ‘thrown away’ and it’s actually sent off to be turned into animal feed. It’s a shame when it’s still usable, but a little reassuring to know it’s not totally wasted.

  6. 6 January, 2014 / 2:15 pm

    Oh my gosh, I hate food waste! We turned up for breakfast at a Garden Centre recently at 11.35am and noticed that they serve it until 11.30am but it was still all out on the counter ready to be served up. We told the girl what we wanted and she said she couldn’t serve it now as it was past 11.30am. I asked what they were going to do with it. Her response was ‘throw it away’.


  7. 6 January, 2014 / 2:25 pm

    Food waste at this time of year really saddens me. That’s why I’m doing my best with the chocolate mountain here.

  8. 6 January, 2014 / 2:32 pm

    Binning perfectly fine products that are past their best by date is just ridiculous, what about selling them to those that want them or donating them to food banks? There are people out there, who would really need donations like this.

  9. 6 January, 2014 / 2:45 pm

    The job I do now/team I’m in is all about working with retailers and manufacturers to reduce packaging and food waste, and Co-op is one of the keenest to reduce this, so I would hope that actually the till person was wrong and they were going to food banks or if food is unsuitable for human food, then to animal feed.

    But I totally agree on fruit and veg. Remove the dates and shoppers will just opt for those that look/feel fine. With potatoes I just keep them in potato bags and remove the shoots so they last for ages. Some packaging is made to keep items fresher for longer, but on the whole, it’s definitely about the sniff/look test

  10. Hellie's Corner
    6 January, 2014 / 5:09 pm

    Bonkers, if it had been meat then yes fine, but most supermarkets sell potatoes loose, so no sell by date.

  11. 6 January, 2014 / 8:45 pm

    What? This is bonkers, who ever heard of anyone getting food poisoning from an out of date potato? I demand that the co-op change their potato policy immediately, or else I’m going to hit them over the head with a lank carrot.

  12. Polly
    6 January, 2014 / 9:54 pm

    I can 100% put myself in the co-op cashier’s shoes.
    I work in the food industry. The FSA rules are very strict. We could get into so much trouble for accidentally or knowingly selling out of date food you have no idea. I can be personally held responsible, lose my job and should you get I’ll because of it and decide to sue I could end up in court too. When I have know it all customer like you it really really puts me in a horrible place. On one hand yes I think it’s stupid that something that looks perfectly good and edible needs to be binned. On the other hand, I’m doing my job and I don’t really need you to give be attitude about me doing what I’m obligated to do. My he cashier doesn’t know if you are an EHO visiting the store to do an audit. Before revealing who they are they often observe how we work. If we follow approved practices. If she had sold or given those potatoes to you after you were anything but a nice customer (by the sound of it) and then it turned out you were an EHO, she’d be out of a job. Food waste is horrible. And we need to change things from the top down. Not take it out on the cashier who’s trying to do their crappy dead end job that doesn’t pay enough.

    • Jo Middleton
      6 January, 2014 / 10:53 pm

      I totally appreciate that this woman was just doing her job, it’s that fact that things like potatoes have to be given a date in the first place, just because they are in a bag rather than loose? It isn’t the individual staff members I take issue with, it’s the whole crazy system…

      • Polly
        7 January, 2014 / 3:21 pm

        I get that. I feel the same way. However you had your conversation with this individual staff member not their manager, store manager or someone in the FSA.

  13. 7 January, 2014 / 9:05 am

    this is insane!! regardless of dates, we only throw our potatoes out if they’re leaking or softer than the bread! there’s certain things the husband won’t let me near if the date has passed (pregnancy has made him cautious) but that’s things like milk, yogurt…

    crazy co-op.

  14. 7 January, 2014 / 12:40 pm

    D’you know, my Mum and I were just having a conversation about this very same thing the other day? She said that she used to have a summer/autumn job as a kid to pick the potatoes for the local farmers as a kid, and then the farmers would drive around with HUGE sacks of potatoes, still with the dirt and everything on, and sell them door-to-door, and the sack of potatoes, with no pesticides etc, would keep for months? (Or as long as they could, in a family with 7 kids, anyway…)

    The best-by/sell-by dates have absolutely nothing to do with the fruits or veggies or the foods themselves. It’s to do with the companies, and not wanting to be sued in case anything DID happen, as you said. If someone got a dicky tummy or something after they’d eaten something past the best-by/sell-by date.

    We were also talking about the whole freeganism thing (if anyone’s reading this and doesn’t know what it is, it’s going into the skips/bins that supermarkets and shops use to throw out waste and food waste, and reclaiming anything that’s still good) and I’m definitely thinking about it seriously. The only problem is that there are at least two 24-hour stores in my area, which will make it difficult! But I know for a fact that I’ve got a block of cheese in my fridge that’s “best by” about four months ago, and there’s not a spot of mould on it, and it tastes absolutely divine. The only things I’ve noticed that go off really quickly are bread, milk, eggs and yoghurts. But they still last days past their best-by. And some, it’s at least a WEEK past their sell-by date.

    If there’s one good thing we can take from it, it’s that we can reap the savings, as supermarkets tend to knock the prices down when things approach their sell-by or best-by dates…

  15. 7 January, 2014 / 3:46 pm

    What on earth that is one of the most stupidest things I have heard they are potato’s they wont harm you lol
    I hate food wastage in fact me and the hubby very rarely waste food at all.

  16. Nicky Richards
    8 January, 2014 / 1:09 pm

    A few nights ago, I ate a yogurt that was two weeks past it’s use by date and I’m still here!!
    Use by dates are crazy and we should use our judgement of whether something is safe to eat.
    Good post :) x

  17. 23 January, 2014 / 11:55 am

    How ridiculous, potatoes can be used for weeks!!

    I laughed aloud at ‘the till won’t let me’ – computer says no ;) xx

  18. Lucy
    16 March, 2014 / 5:56 pm

    I’ve just had the very same thing happen to me in the Crouch End Co-op! This time with a perfectly healthy-looking bag of oranges. My conversation with the lady behind the till sounded exactly like yours and when I asked if I could just be given them, if “the till wouldn’t let me pay for them” I, too, was told it was no because it was “company policy”.

    I hate food waste and was really surprised at Co-op, a company who pride themselves on being an ethical company.

    Does anyone know what they actually do with this type of food? The people behind the till assumed it just got thrown away, which I hope isn’t the case.

    • Jo Middleton
      17 March, 2014 / 4:59 pm

      Oh no Lucy! I hate to think it, but I suspect it just goes in the bin – that’s what they told me anyway. I like to imagine that there are members of staff who rescue it all and take it home for their tea.

  19. 20 April, 2015 / 9:41 pm

    It’s wrong on every level really. I joined in the #ClearAPlate campaign with Unilever and Oxfam because I think food waste is simply unacceptable. I’m unfortunately not guilty of it, but joining especially challenge me to do better.

    I enjoy a good bargain and it’s such a shame to learn about so much unnecessary waste in supermarkets. It’s part of the modern world gone bonkers; I mean, when you consider the extent of poverty in our world … that supermarkets bin food that is good condition is just plain mad.

    Anyway, I’m glad you wrote this post; I hope the Co-op read it and have done something about it. #aNoviceMumTwitterFeed

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