Ask LH: Are Grocery Stores Allowed To Sell Expired Food?

Dear Lifehacker, I frequently visit my local general store due to the convenience and lovely customer service. They have a discount bin which is populated with out-of-date items such as biscuits and chips. Usually, the products are a week or two old, but the other day they had things in the bin that expired over a month ago. Is there any kind of cut off for selling out of date goods? Thanks, Not Keen To Get Sick

Grocery store image from Shutterstock

Dear NKTGS,

Food expiration is regulated by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. The legalities surrounding the sale of expired food depends on the type of ingredients they contain.

In short, products that remains safe to eat after passing their expiration date can still be sold, while food that becomes potentially dangerous must be disposed of by the merchant.

You can tell which is which by the type of label used: "best before" or "use by". The former is still safe to consume and can be legally sold to customers. However, the taste and texture is often compromised which is why they are typically marked down.

"Use by" is another story. Foods you should definitely avoid after passing the use by date include eggs, raw meats and milk. If the general store is selling these products past the expiry date, they are breaking the law.

In most cases, "best before" labels should be viewed as a recommendation or guideline rather than an exact science. When properly sealed, the majority of packaged goods do not degrade in quality for many weeks after "expiring". For things like chips and biscuits, the true cut-off date is usually a month or two later. After this, they have a tendency to get stale and/or unpleasantly soft.

If you're curious about the "real" expiry date of certain products, we recommend paying a visit to Eat By Date website, which contains a database of true expiration dates for popular products. In addition, it tells you how to identify when foods are bad, how it affects the flavour and how to store products to maximise their shelf life.

In any event, general stores know they're taking a gamble when they sell expired food -- if the taste isn't up to par, simply return it and ask for a refund. If their customer service is as good as you say it is they should be happy to comply.

Cheers Lifehacker

Have a question you want to put to Ask Lifehacker? Send it using our contact form.


Comments

    When I was younger and worked at WW we were not allowed to sell anything past the date. It all had to go. Occasionally they would find a box of Mars bars or whatever about to go and would flog them off for 30c each at the checkout. If were lucky, they'd find them just after and let the staff purchase them dirt cheap.

    I felt pretty bad one time when I was helping a backpacker from somewhere in Europe find a product from back home, then realised they were all out of date and I couldn't let her have any of them :(

    I used to work at Big W. Once food passed the "Best Before" date it was reduced by 20% for 7 days. After that it was reduced to 50%. After 28 days if there was any left, it was disposed of.

    After this, they have a tendency to get stale and/or unpleasantly soft
    I believe you can restore soggy biscuits by re-baking them.

    It is not illegal to sell expired goods in the USA except baby food. There is a reason for this... expiration does not mean the food is bad. Also the majority of foods are safe for consumption many months after expired. You are allowed to sell. Amy store that says otherwise do not know the laws or it is company policy. I buy expired things all the time. The only thing I won't buy expired is non preserved animal product. Like milk or eggs. Most products loose their quality over time and most of these labels are just giving a general idea of when it is at its best. Obviously if you see mold on the bread it is not safe. Most yogurt though... like cheese is already aged. It would be like calling wine expired.

Join the discussion!