Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Recycled Food

Are you buying recycled food at the grocery store?  Maybe you are, but nobody bothered to share the gory details with you.

When a grocery store buys meat from their supplier, it's a 1-way ticket.  Unlike potato chips and other similar products that get taken back by the manufacturer when they go stale, there is no returning of "stale" product to the abattoir.

That is why grocery stores have a Best Before Date on all packages of meat, and the butcher's assistant scans the meat counter every day looking for packages than are quickly approaching that deadline.  For quick sale before it expires, the Meat Dept. will often place a 25% off sticker, then a 50% off sticker on the unsold package.  If it still doesn't sell, then it is thrown out, or sent to the deli counter where it is cooked, sliced, and put into ready-to-eat sandwiches that are sold there.  For old chickens, they will be cooked on the store's deli rotisserie, then sold as hot, ready-to-eat roast chickens.  The Deli Counter helps reduce food waste, while giving the store an additional profit centre, without creating a food safety hazard.

However, things don't always go as planned or permitted under the food regulations.  I received an email a while ago from a gentleman who shared an experience of his friend with the recycling of spoiled chicken so it can be sold to unsuspecting consumers.  Here is what he said about the experience in a Pembroke ON grocery store:
"First day on the job at the grocery store he was asked to put the individual chickens on a plate and wrap it. The chickens came in big bags with a liquid slurry in it, he cut it open and the smell was awful. He went and got the head of the meat department to come and see. The head's response was that smell is normal and he filled the sink up with cold water and ice then he said we add JAVEX to kill the bacteria."

Of course, this "sanitizing of contaminated or spoiled chicken is similar to what many abattoirs do as well, except the abattoirs use  one or more of the following chemicals (according to Dr. ):   sulfuric acid, ammonium sulfate, copper sulfate, chlorine gas, sodium hypochlorite, acidified sodium chlorite, trisodium phosphate, chlorine dioxide, hypochlorous acid, peracetic acid, lactic acid, cetylpyridinium chloride, sodium acid sulfate, bromine, citric acid and HCL, sodium metasilicate, organic acids, acidified hypochlorous acid, Zentox, TOMCO, Zentox monochloramine, cetylpyridinium chloride, mixture of hydrochloric + citric + phosphoric acid (SteriFx or FreshFx), or electrolyzed oxidative water.

I assume they wash most of that tasty stuff off before they sell it to the retail store, but maybe they assume you like the added flavoring.  Who knows?

These types of spoiled meat surreptitious sanitizing behaviours have been reported previously in Canada and other jurisdiction (see ABC PrimeTime and Food Lion case.  Food Integrity Campaign ("FIC") was also involved with Food Lion and their alleged recycling of spoiled or tainted meat.  FIC reported that Food Lion's profits dropped 98% from 1992 to 1993 when these allegations were reported, and subsequently Food Lion "had to close 80 stores and cancel plans to open 80 more."

Fooling and abusing consumers has consequences.  I wonder if (or when) the Supply Management Mafia will come to realize this important fact.

Some or most  "Best Before" dates aren't binding upon retail stores.  Sometimes one retail store will sell their expired foods to salvage retail stores who specialize is selling date expired foods (See this Forbes article).  In the US, pre-packaged meats done under USDA inspection cannot have Best Before dates removed, nor changed.  The States of New York and Massachusetts  also prohibits these practices.  All other States are silent on this issue, except the general rules that meats must be wholesome, safe, and unadulterated.

US Food & Drug Administration says:
With the exception of infant formula, the laws that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) administers do not preclude the sale of food that is past the expiration date indicated on the label. FDA does not require food firms to place "expired by", "use by" or "best before" dates on food products. This information is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer.
"A principle of U.S. food law is that foods in U.S. commerce must be wholesome and fit for consumption. A "best by", "use by" or expiration date does not relieve a firm from this obligation. A product that is dangerous to consumers would be subject to potential action by FDA to remove it from commerce regardless of any date printed on a label."
Under Regulations issued under Canada's Food and Drugs Act, pre-packaged food require a "Best Before" date if the shelf live is 90 days or less.  Foods that have sensitive nutritional requirements (eg. baby formula) must have expiry dates, must retain 90% or more of their nutritional potency at the expiry date, and cannot be sold beyond that date.

Canned meats generally have a 3 year Best Before date, but most manufacturers feel they are safe to eat indefinitely.   Many Canadian grocery stores have been found to have canned goods for up to 3 years beyond their Best Before date.

Alternatively to the Javex bath for poultry, red meats such as beef will soon go brown or grey as they age.  Consumers usually won't buy the meat when they show their age.  What is a Meat Dept. Manager to do when they have expensive roasts that nobody will buy?  Some open up the package, take a thin slice off of the end of the roast, thereby exposing a fresh, bright red surface, then re-package the roast, with nobody the wiser.
 Meats sold in Canada must have a "Packaged on" date, and the durable life of the meat (ie. Best Before date).  If a retailer re-packages meat, the new package must have the same dates as the previous package. A CFIA bulletin issued in March 2012 states that CFIA is aware that some retail stores are violating the re-packaging dating rules.

A June 2013 bulletin from CFIA discusses the use of CO (Carbon monoxide) gas to brighten up the colour of packaged meats, a recent trick added to the industry's bag of dirty tricks to fool consumers.

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!

Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17.
Scottish author & novelist (1771 - 1832)

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