When you’re walking around the supermarket, it’s impossible not to wonder what happens to all the food once it hits its expiration date. It couldn’t possibly all just get thrown out, right? So where does it go? And does food really become inedible once it hits the expiration date?
Thankfully, according to Forbes, the vast majority of food that reaches its sell-by date is still perfectly edible, so while it can’t be sold as-is in the store anymore, it doesn’t simply get tossed. But different things happen to different types of food.
Fresh Vegetables and Meats
As they’re approaching their sell-by date, these foods are generally cooked in-house and sold as prepared foods. What can’t be used before starting to turn heads to the landfill.
Some canned and shelf-stable packaged foods, like fruit preserves and granola bars, can stay edible for years after their expiration dates, which are essentially just the manufacturer’s suggestion of when quality begins to diminish. For this reason, most of these items are sent to food banks or salvage grocery stores, which sell foods that have passed their expiration dates at steep discounts.
The outdated, out of season, and damaged foods from supermarkets are generally picked up and taken to reclamation centers (which are usually operated by the supermarkets themselves), where they’re sorted. Everything that can be salvaged is sent to a food bank or salvage grocery store, but the severly damaged items are thrown out.
Dairy products are one of the only foods (along with fresh meat) that do begin to turn after they pass their expiration date, so they gets tossed quite promptly, before they can make anyone sick.